The Heart of Princess Osra/Chapter 8
The Love of the Prince of Glottenberg.
It was the spring of the year when Ludwig, Prince of Glottenberg, came courting the Princess Osra; for his father had sought the most beautiful lady of a Royal House in Europe, and had found none equal to Osra. Therefore the Prince came to Strelsau with a great retinue, and was lodged in the White Palace, which stood on the outskirts of the city, where the public gardens now are (for the Palace itself was sacked and burnt by the people in the rising of 1848). Here Ludwig stayed many days, coming every day to the King's palace to pay his respects to the King and Queen, and to make his court to the Princess. King Rudolf had received him with the utmost friendship, and was, for reasons of State then of great moment but now of vanished interest, as eager for the match as was the King of Glottenberg himself; and he grew very impatient with his sister when she hesitated to accept Ludwig's hand, alleging that she felt for him no more than a kindly esteem, and, what was as much to the purpose, that he felt no more for her. For although the Prince possessed most courteous and winning manners, and was very accomplished both in learning and in exercises, yet he was a grave and pensive young man, rather stately than jovial, and seemed in the Princess's eyes (accustomed as they were to catch and check ardent glances), to perform his wooing more as a duty of his station than on the impulse of any passion. Finding in herself also no such sweet ashamed emotions as had before now invaded her heart on account of lesser men, she grew grave and troubled. At last she said to the King:
"Brother, is this love? For I had as lief he were away as here, and when he is here he kisses my hand as though it were a statue's hand; and—and I feel as though it were. They say you know what love is. Is this love?"
"There are many forms of love," smiled the King. "This is such love as a Prince and a Princess may most properly feel."
"I do not call it love at all," said Osra with a pout.
When Prince Ludwig came next day to see her and told her with grave courtesy that his pleasure lay in doing her will, she broke out:
"I had rather it lay in watching my face," and then, ashamed, she turned away from him.
He seemed grieved and hurt at her words; it was with a sigh that he said: "My life shall be spent in giving you joy."
She turned round on him with flushed cheek and trembling lips:
"Yes, but I had rather it were spent in getting joy from me."
He cast down his eyes a moment, and then, taking her hand, kissed it. But she drew it away sharply. So that afternoon they parted, he back to his Palace, she to her chamber, where she sat, asking again: "Is this love?" and crying: "He does not know love," and pausing, now and again, before her mirror, to ask her pictured face why it would not unlock the door of love.
On another day she would be merry, or feign merriment, rallying him on his sombre air and formal compliments, professing that for her part she soon grew weary of such wooing, and loved to be easy and merry; for thus she hoped to sting him, so that he would either disclose more warmth or altogether forsake his pursuit. But he offered many apologies, blaming nature that had made him grave, but assuring her of his deep affection and respect.
"Affection and respect!" murmured Osra with a little toss of her head. "Oh, that I had not been born a Princess!" And yet, though she did not love him, she thought him a very noble gentleman, and trusted to his honour and sincerity in everything. Therefore, when he still persisted, and Rudolf and the Queen urged her, telling her (the King mockingly, the Queen with a touch of sadness) that she must not look to find in the world such love as romantic girls dreamt of, at last she yielded; she told her brother that she would marry Prince Ludwig; yet for a little while she would not have the news proclaimed. So Rudolf went, alone and privately, to the White Palace, and said to Ludwig:
"Cousin, you have won the fairest lady in the world. Behold, her brother says it!"
Prince Ludwig bowed low, and taking the King's hand, pressed it, thanking him for his help and approval, and expressing himself as most grateful for the boon of the Princess's favour.
"Will you not come with me and find her?" cried the King with a merry look.
"I have urgent business now," answered Ludwig. "Beg the Princess to forgive me. This afternoon I will crave the honour of waiting on her with my humble gratitude."
King Rudolf looked at him, a smile curling on his lips; and he said, in one of his gusts of impatience:
"By heaven! is there another man in the world who would talk about gratitude, and business, and the afternoon, when Osra of Strelsau sat waiting for him?"
"I mean no discourtesy," protested Ludwig, taking the King's arm, and glancing at him with most friendly eyes. "Indeed, dear friend, I am rejoiced and honoured. But this business of mine will not wait."
So the King, frowning and grumbling and laughing, went back alone and told the Princess that the happy wooer was most grateful, and would come after his business was transacted that afternoon. But Osra, having given her hand, would admit no fault in the man she had chosen, and thanked the King for the message with great dignity. Then the King came to her, and, sitting down by her, stroked her hair, saying softly:
"You have had many lovers, sister Osra, and now comes a husband!"
"Yes, now a husband," she murmured, catching swiftly at his hand; her voice was half caught in a sudden sob.
"So goes the world—our world," said the King, knitting his brows and seeming to fall for a moment into a sad reverie.
"I am frightened," she whispered. "Should I be frightened if I loved him?"
"I have been told so," said the King, smiling again. "But the fear has a way of being mastered then." And he drew her to him, and gave her a hearty brother's kiss, telling her to take courage. "You'll thaw the fellow yet," said the King, "though, I grant you, he is icy enough." For the King himself had been by no means what he called an icy man.
But Osra was not satisfied, and sought to assuage the pain of her heart by adorning herself most carefully for the Prince's coming, hoping to fire him to love. For she thought that if he loved she might, although since he did not she could not. And surely he did not, or all the tales of love were false! Thus she came to receive him very magnificently arrayed. There was a flush on her cheek and an uncertain, expectant, fearful look in her eyes; thus she stood before him, as he fell on his knee and kissed her hand. Then he rose and declared his thanks, and promised his devotion; but as he spoke the flush faded and the light died from her eyes; and when at last he drew near to her and offered to kiss her cheek, her eyes were dead and her face pale and cold as she suffered him to touch it. He was content to touch it but once, and seemed not to know how cold it was; and so, after more talk of his father's pleasure and his pride, he took his leave, promising to come again the next day. She ran to the window when the door was closed on him, and thence watched him mount his horse and ride away slowly, with his head bent and his eyes downcast; yet he was a noble gentleman, stately and handsome, kind and true. The tears came suddenly into her eyes and blurred her sight as she leant watching from behind the hanging curtains of the window. Though she dashed them away angrily, they came again, and ran down her pale cold cheeks, mourning the golden vision that seemed gone without fulfilment.
That evening there came a gentleman from the Prince of Glottenberg, carrying most humble excuses from his master, who (so he said) was prevented from waiting on the Princess the next day by a certain very urgent affair which took him from Strelsau, and would keep him absent from the city all day long; and the gentleman delivered to Osra a letter from the Prince, full of graceful and profound apologies, and pleading an engagement that his honour would not let him break; for nothing short of that, said he, should have kept him from her side. There followed some lover's phrases, scantily worded and frigid in an assumed passion. But Osra, smiling graciously, sent back a message, readily accepting all that the Prince urged in excuse. And she told what had passed to the King, with her head high in the air and a careless haughtiness, so that even the King did not rally her, nor yet venture to comfort her, but urged her to spend the day in riding with the Queen and him; for they were setting out for Zenda, where the King was to hunt in the forest, and she could ride some part of the way with them, and return in the evening. And she, wishing that she had sent first to the Prince to bid him not come, agreed to go with her brother; it was better far to go than to wait at home for a lover who would not come.
Thus the next morning they rode out, the King and Queen with their retinue, the Princess attended by one of her Guard, named Christian Hantz, who was greatly attached to her and most jealous in praise and admiration of her. This fellow had taken it on himself to be very angry with Prince Ludwig's coldness, but dared say nothing of it; yet, impelled by his anger, he had set himself to watch the Prince very closely; and thus he had, as he conceived, discovered something which brought a twinkle into his eye and a triumphant smile to his lips as he rode behind the Princess. Some fifteen miles she accompanied her brother, and then, turning with Christian, took another way back to the city. Alone she rode, her mind full of sad thoughts; while Christian, behind, still wore his malicious smile. But presently, although she had not commanded him, he quickened his pace and came up to her side, relying for excuse on the favour which she always shewed him.
"Well, Christian," said she, "have you something to say to me?"
For answer he pointed to a small house standing among the trees, some way from the road, and he said:
"If I were Ludwig and not Christian, yet I would be here where Christian is, and not there where Ludwig is," and he pointed still at the house.
She faced round in anger at his daring to speak to her of the Prince, but he was a bold fellow and would not be silenced now that he had begun to speak; he knew also that she would bear much from him. So he leant over towards her, saying:
"By your bounty, madame, I have money, and he who has money can get knowledge. So I know that the Prince is there. For fifty crowns I gained a servant of his, and he told me."
"I do not know why you should spy on the Prince," said Osra, "and I do not care to know where the Prince is;" and she touched her horse with the spur and cantered forward fast, leaving the little house behind. But Christian persisted, partly in a foolish grudge against any man who should win what was above his reach, partly in an honest anger that she, whom he worshipped, should be treated lightly by another; and he forced her to hear what he had learnt from the gossip of the Prince's groom, telling it to her in hints and half-spoken sentences, yet so plainly that she could not miss the gist of it.
She rode the faster towards Strelsau, at first answering nothing; but at last she turned on him fiercely, saying that he told a lie, and that she knew it was a lie, since she knew where the Prince was, and what business had taken him away; and she commanded Christian to be silent and to speak neither to her nor to any one else of his false suspicions; and she bade him very harshly to fall back and ride behind her again, which he did, sullen yet satisfied. For he knew that his arrow had gone home. On she rode, with her cheeks aflame and her heart beating, until she came to Strelsau; having arrived at the Palace, she ran to her own bedroom and flung herself on the bed.
Here for an hour she lay; then, it being about six o'clock, she sat up, pushing her disordered hair back from her hot aching brow. An agony of humiliation had come upon her, and a fury of resentment against the Prince, whose coldness seemed now to need no more explanation. Yet she could hardly believe what she had been told of him, for though she had not loved him, she had accorded to him her full trust. Rising, she paced in pain about the room. She could not rest; she cried out in longing that her brother were there, to aid her and find out the truth for her. But he was away, and she had none to whom she could turn. So she strove to master her anger and endure her suspense till the next day, but they were too strong for her, and she cried:
"I will go myself, I cannot sleep till I know. But I cannot go alone. Who will go with me?" But she knew of none, for she would not take Christian with her, and she shrank from speaking of the matter to any gentlemen of the Court. Yet she must know. At last she sprang from the chair into which she had sunk despondent, exclaiming:
"He is a gentleman and my friend. He will go with me." And she sent hastily for the Bishop of Modenstein, who was then in Strelsau, bidding him come dressed for riding, with a sword, and on the best horse in his stables. The Bishop came equipped as she bade him, and in very great wonder. But when she told what she wanted, and what Christian had made known to her, he grew grave, saying that they must wait and consult the King, when he returned.
"I will not wait an hour," she cried. "I cannot wait an hour."
"Then I will ride and bring you word. You must not go," he urged.
"Nay, if I go alone I will go," said she. "Yes, I will go, and myself fling his falseness in his teeth."
Finding her thus resolved, the Bishop knew that he could not turn her; so, leaving her to prepare herself, he caught Christian Hantz, and charged him to bring their horses to the most private gate of the palace, which opened on a little by-street. Here Christian waited for them with the horses, and they came presently, the Bishop wearing a great slouched hat, and swaggering like a roystering trooper, while Osra was closely veiled. The Bishop again imposed secrecy on Christian, and then, they both being mounted, said to Osra: "If you will then, madame, come," and thus they rode secretly out of the city, about seven in the evening, the gate-wardens opening the gate at sight of the Royal Arms on Osra's ring, which she gave to the Bishop in order that he might shew it.
In silence they rode a long way, going at a great speed; Osra's face was set and rigid, for she felt now no shame at herself for going, nor any fear of what she might find, but the injury to her pride swallowed every other feeling; and at last she said, in short sharp words, to the Bishop of Modenstein, having suddenly thrown the veil back from her face:
"He shall not live if it prove true."
The Bishop shook his head. His profession was peace; yet his blood also was hot against the man who had put a slight on Princess Osra.
"The King must know of it," he said.
"The King! The King is not here to-night," said Osra; and she pricked her horse and set him at a gallop. The moon, breaking suddenly in brightness from behind a cloud, shewed the Bishop her face. Then she put out her hand and caught him by the arm, whispering: "Are you my friend?"
"Yes, madame," said he. She knew well that he was her friend.
"Kill him for me, then; kill him for me."
"I cannot kill him," said the Bishop. "I pray God it may prove untrue."
"You are not my friend, if you will not kill him," said Osra; and she turned her face away and rode yet more quickly.
At last they came in sight of the little house standing back from the road; and there was a light in one of the upper windows. The Bishop heard a short gasp break from Osra's lips, as she pointed with her whip to the window. Now his own breath came quick and fast; he prayed to God that he might remember his sacred character and his vows, and not be led into great and deadly sin, at the bidding of that proud and bitter face; and he clenched his left hand and struck his brow with it.
Thus then they came to the gate of the avenue of trees that led to the house. Here, having dismounted and tied their horses to the gate-post, they stood for an instant, and Osra again veiled her face.
"Let me go alone, madame," he implored.
"Give me your sword, and I will go alone," she answered.
"Here, then, is the path," said the Bishop, and he led the way by the moonlight that broke fitfully here and there through the trees.
"He swore that all his life should be mine," she whispered. "Yet I knew that he did not love me."
The Bishop made her no answer; she looked for none and did not know that she spoke the bitterness of her heart in words which he could hear. He bowed his head and prayed again for her and for himself; for he had found his hand gripping the hilt of his sword. Thus, side by side now, they came to the door of the house, and saw a gentleman standing in front of the door, still but watchful. Osra knew that he was the Prince's Chamberlain.
When the Chamberlain saw them, he started violently and clapped a hand to his sword; but Osra flung her veil on to the ground, and the Bishop gripped his arm as with a vice. The Chamberlain looked at Osra and at the Bishop, and half drew his sword.
"This matter is too great for you, sir," said the Bishop. "It is a quarrel of Princes. Stand aside," and before the Chamberlain could make up his mind what to do Osra had passed by him and the Bishop had followed her.
Finding themselves in a narrow passage, they made out by the dim light of a lamp a flight of stairs that rose from the furthest end of it. The Bishop tried to pass the Princess, but she motioned him back, and walked swiftly to the stairs. In silence they mounted, till they had reached the top of the first stage; and facing them, eight or ten steps further up, was a door. By the door stood a groom; this was the man who had treacherously told Christian of his master's doings; but when he saw suddenly what had come of his disloyal chattering, the fellow turned white as a ghost and came tottering in stealthy silence down the stairs, his finger on his lips.
Neither of them spoke to him, nor he to them. They gave no thought to him, his only thought was to escape as soon as he might; so he passed them, and, going on, passed also the Chamberlain, who stood dazed at the house-door, and so disappeared, intent on saving the life he had justly forfeited. Thus the rogue vanished, and what became of him none knew or cared. He showed his face no more at Glottenberg or Strelsau.
"Hark, there are voices!" whispered Osra to the Bishop, raising her hand above her head, as they two stood listening.
The voices came from the door that faced them, the voice of a man and the voice of a woman; Osra's glance at her companion told him that she knew as well as he whose the man's voice was.
"It is true, then," she breathed from between her teeth. "My God, it is true!"
The woman's voice spoke now, but the words were not audible. Then came the Prince's:
"For ever, in life or death, apart or together, for ever."
The woman's answer came no more in words, but in deep low passionate sobs which struck their ears like the distant cry of some brute creature in pain that it cannot understand. Yet Osra's face was stern and cold, and her lips curled scornfully when she saw the Bishop's look of pity.
"Come, let us end it," said she, and with a firm step she began to mount the stairs that lay between them and the door.
Yet once again they paused outside the door, for it seemed as though the Princess could not choose but listen to the passionate words of love that pierced her ears like knives; yet they were all sad, speaking of renunciation, not of happiness.
But at last she heard her own name; then with a sudden start she caught the Bishop's hand, for she could not listen longer. She staggered and reeled as she whispered to him:
"The door, the door, open the door!"
The Bishop, his right hand being across his body and resting on the hilt of his sword, laid his left upon the handle of the door, and turned it. Then he flung the door open wide; at that instant Osra sprang past him, her eyes gleaming like flames from her dead white face. And she stood rigid on the threshold of the room, with the Bishop by her side.
In the middle of the room stood the Prince of Glottenberg; strained in a close embrace, clinging to him, supported by his arms, with head buried in his breast, was a girl of slight and slender figure, graceful though not tall; her body was still shaken by continual struggling sobs. The Prince held her there as though against the world, but raised his head and looked at the intruders with a grave sad air. There was no shame on his face, and hardly surprise. Presently he took one arm from about the lady, and, raising it, motioned to them to be still. Osra took one step forward towards where the pair stood; the Bishop caught her sleeve, but she shook him off. The lady looked up into the Prince's face; with a sudden startled cry she clutched him closer, and turned a terrified face over her shoulder. Then she moaned in great fear, and, reeling, fell against the Prince; she would have sunk to the ground if he had not upheld her, and her eyes closed and her lip dropped, as she swooned away. But the Princess smiled, and, drawing herself to her full height, stood watching while Ludwig bore the lady to a couch and laid her there. Then, when he came back and faced her, she asked coldly and slowly:
"Who is this woman, sir? Or is she one of those who have no names?"
The Prince sprang forward, a sudden anger in his eyes; he raised his hand as if he would have pressed it across her scornful mouth and kept back her bitter words. But she did not flinch; pointing at him with her finger, she cried to the Bishop in a ringing voice:
"Kill him, my lord, kill him."
And the sword of the Bishop of Modenstein was half way out of the scabbard.
"I would to God, my lord," said the Prince in low sad tones, "that God would suffer you to kill me and me to take death at your hands. But neither for you nor for me is the blow lawful. Let me speak to the Princess."
The Bishop still grasped his sword; for Osra's face and hand still commanded him. But at the instant of his hesitation, while the temptation was hot on him, there came from the couch where the lady lay a low moan of great pain. She flung her arms out and turned, groaning again, on her back and her head lay hanging over the side of the couch. The Bishop's eyes met Ludwig's, and with a "God forgive me!" he let the sword slip back, and, springing across the room, fell on his knees beside the couch. He broke the gold chain round his neck and grasped the crucifix which it carried in one hand, while with the other he raised the lady's head, praying her to open her eyes, before whose closed lids he held the sacred image; and he, who had come so near to great sin, now prayed softly but fervently for her life and God's pity on her; for the frailty her slight form showed could not withstand the shock of this trial.
"Who is she?" asked the Princess.
But Ludwig's eyes had wandered back to the couch, and he answered only:
"My God, it will kill her."
"I care not," said Osra. But then came another low moan. "I care not," said the Princess again. "Ah, she is in great suffering!" And her eyes followed the Prince's.
There was silence, save for the lady's low moans and the whispered prayers of the Bishop of Modenstein. But the lady opened her eyes, and in an instant, answering the summons, the Prince was by her side, kneeling and holding her hand very tenderly; and he met a glance from the Bishop across her prostrate body. The Prince bowed his head and one sob burst from him.
"Leave me alone with her for a little, sir," said the Bishop, and the Prince, obeying, rose and withdrew into the bay of the window, while Osra stood alone near the door by which she had entered.
A few minutes passed, then Osra saw the Prince return to where the lady was and kneel again beside her; and she saw that the Bishop was preparing to perform his most sacred and sublime office; the lady's eyes dwelt on him now in peace and restfulness, and she held Prince Ludwig's hand in her small hand. But Osra would not kneel; she stood upright, still and cold, as though she neither saw nor heard anything of what passed; she would not pity nor forgive the woman, even if, as they seemed to think, she lay dying. But she spoke once, asking in a harsh voice:
"Is there no physician in the house or near?"
"None, madame," said the Prince.
The Bishop began the office, and Osra stood, dimly hearing the words of comfort, peace, and hope, dimly seeing the smile on the lady's face; for gradually her eyes clouded with tears. Now her ears seemed to hear nothing save the sad and piteous sobs that had shaken the girl as she hung about Ludwig's neck. But she strove to drive away her softer thoughts, fanning her fury when it burnt low, and telling herself again of the insult that she had suffered. Thus she rested till the Bishop had performed the office. But when he had finished it, he rose from his knees and came to where Osra was.
"It was your duty," she said, "but it is none of mine."
"She will not live an hour," said he. "For she had an affection of the heart, and this shock has killed her. Indeed I think she was half dead for grief before we came."
"Who is she?" broke again from Osra's lips.
"Come and hear," said he, and she followed him obediently, yet unwillingly, to the couch, and looked down at the lady. The lady looked at her with wondering eyes, and then she smiled faintly, pressing the Prince's hand, and whispering:
"Yet she is so beautiful." And she seemed now wonderfully happy, so that they three all watched her and were envious, although they were to live and she to die.
"Now God pardon her sin!" said the Princess Osra suddenly, and she fell on her knees beside the couch, crying: "Surely God has pardoned her!"
"Sin she has none, save what clings even to the purest in this world," said the Bishop. "For what she has said to me I know to be true."
Osra answered nothing, but gazed in questioning at the Prince, and he, still holding the lady's hand, began to speak in a gentle voice:
"Do not ask her name, madame. But from the first hour that we knew the meaning of love we have loved one another. And had the issue rested in my hands, I would have thrown to the winds all that kept me from her. I remember when first I met her—ah, my sweet, do you remember? From that day to this in soul she has been mine, and I hers in all my life. But more could not be. Madame, you have asked what love is. Here is love. Yet fate is stronger. Thus I came to Strelsau to woo, and she, left alone, resolved to give herself to God."
"How comes she here, then?" whispered Osra, and she laid one hand timidly on the couch, near to the lady yet not so as to touch even her garments.
"She came here——" he began; but suddenly, to their amazement, the lady, who had seemed dead, with an effort raised herself on her elbow, and spoke in a quick eager whisper, as if she feared time and strength would fail.
"He is a great Prince," she said, "he must be a great King; God means him for greatness, God forbid that I should be his ruin. Ah, what a sweet dream he painted! But praise be to the Blessed Saints who kept me strong. Yet at the last I was weak. I could not live without another sight of his face; and so—I came. Next week I am—I was to take the veil; and I came here to see him once again. God pardon me for it. But I could not help it. Ah, madame, I know you, and I see now your beauty. Have you known love?"
"No," said Osra; and she moved her hand near to the lady's hand.
"When he found me here, he prayed me again to do what he asked; and I was half killed in denying it. But I prevailed, and we were even then parting when you came. Why, why did I come?" For a moment her voice died away in a low soft moan. But she made one more effort; clasping Osra's hand in her delicate fingers, she whispered: "I am going. Be his wife."
"No, no, no," whispered Osra, her face now close to the lady's. "You must live; you must live and be happy."
And then she kissed the lady's lips. The lady put out her arms and clasped them round Osra's neck, and again she whispered softly in Osra's ear. Neither Ludwig nor the Bishop heard what she said, but they heard only that Osra sobbed. Presently the lady's arms relaxed a little in their hold, and Osra, having kissed her again, rose and signed to Ludwig to come nearer; while she, turning, gave her hand to the Bishop, and he led her from the room, and, finding another room near, took her in there, where she sat, silent and pale.
Thus half an hour passed; then the Bishop stole out softly, and presently returned, saying:
"God has spared her the long painful path, and has taken her straight to His rest."
Osra heard him, half in a trance and as if she did not hear; she did not know where he went nor what he did, nor anything that passed, until, as it seemed after a long while, she looked up and saw Prince Ludwig standing before her. He was composed and calm; but it seemed as if half the life had gone out of his face. Osra rose slowly to her feet, supporting herself on an arm of the chair on which she had sat; and, when she had seen his face, she suddenly threw herself on the floor at his feet, crying:
"Forgive me, forgive me!"
"The guilt is mine," said he, "I did not trust you and did by stealth what your nobility would have allowed me to do openly. The guilt is mine." And he offered to raise her. But she rose, unaided, asking with choking voice:
"Is she dead?"
"She is dead," said the Prince, and Osra, hearing it, covered her face with her hands and blindly groped her way back to the chair, where she sat, panting and exhausted.
"To her I have said farewell, and now, madame, to you. Yet do not think that I
am a man without eyes for your beauty, or a heart to know your worth. I seemed to you a fool and a churl. I grieved most bitterly, and I wronged you bitterly. My excuse for all is now known. For though you are more beautiful than she, yet true love is no wanderer; it gives a beauty that it does not find, and forges a chain no charms can break. Madame, farewell."
She looked at him and saw the sad joy in his eyes, an exultation over what had been, that what was could not destroy; and she knew that the vision was still with him though his love was dead. Suddenly he seemed to her a man she also might love and for whom she also, if need be, might gladly die; yet not because she loved him, for she was asking still in wonder: "What is this love?"
"Madame, farewell," said he again, and, kneeling before her, he kissed her hand.
"I carry the body of my love," he went on, "back with me to my home, there to mourn for her; and I shall come no more to Strelsau."
Osra bent her eyes on his face as he knelt, and presently she said to him in a whisper that was low for awe, not shame:
"You heard what she bade me do?"
"Yes, madame. I know her wish."
"And you would do it?" she asked.
"Madame, my struggle was fought before she died. But now you know that my love was not yours."
"That also I knew before, sir," and a slight bitter smile came on her face. But she grew grave again and sat there, seeming to be pondering, while Prince Ludwig waited. Then she suddenly leant forward and said:
"If I loved I would wait for you to love. Now what is this love that I cannot feel?"
And then she sat again silent, but at last raised her eyes again to his, saying in a voice that even in the stillness of the room he hardly heard:
"Now I nearly love you, for I have seen your love and know that you can love; and I think that love must breed love, so that she who loves must in God's time be beloved. Yet I——" She paused here, and for a moment hid her face with her hand. "Yet I cannot," she went on. "Is it our Lord Christ who bids us take the lower place? I cannot take it. He does not so reign in my heart. For to my proud heart—ah, my heart so proud!—she would be ever between us. I could not bear it. Yet I believe now that with you I might one day find happiness."
The Prince, though in that hour he could not think of love, was yet very much moved by her new tenderness and felt that what had passed rather drew them together than made any separation between them. And it seemed to him that the dead lady's blessing was on his suit; so he said:
"Madame, I would most faithfully serve you and you would be nearest and dearest to me of all living women."
She waited awhile, then she sighed heavily, looking in his face with an air of wistful longing; and she knit her brows as though she were puzzled. But at last, shaking her head, she said:
"It is not enough."
With this she rose and took him by the hand, and they two went back together to where the Bishop of Modenstein still prayed beside the body of the lady.
Osra stood on one side of the body and stretched her hand out to the Prince who stood on the other side.
"See," said she, "she must be between us." And having kissed the dead face once, she left the Prince there by the side of his love and herself went out; and, turning her head, she saw that the Prince knelt again by the corpse of his love.
"He does not think of me," she said to the Bishop.
"His thoughts are still with her, madame," he answered.
It was late night now, and they rode swiftly and silently along the road to Strelsau. On all the way they spoke to one another only a few words, both being sunk deep in thought. But once Osra spoke, as they were already near to Strelsau. For she turned suddenly to the Bishop, saying:
"My lord, what is it? Do you know it?"
"Yes, madame, I have known it," answered the Bishop.
"Yet you are a Churchman!"
"True, madame," said he, and he smiled sadly.
She seemed to consider, fixing her eyes on his; but he turned his aside.
"Could you not make me understand?" she asked.
"Your lover, when he comes, will do that, madame," said he, and still he kept his eyes averted. Osra wondered why he kept his eyes turned away; yet presently a faint smile curved her lips, and she said:
"It may be you might feel it, if you were not a Churchman. But I do not. Many men have said they loved me, and I have felt something in my heart; but not this."
"It will come," said the Bishop.
"Does it come then to every one?"
"To most," he answered.
"Heigho, will it ever come to me?" she sighed.
With this they were at home. And Osra was for a long time very sorrowful for the fate of the lady whom the Prince of Glottenberg had loved; yet, since she saw Ludwig no more, and the joy of youth conquers sadness, she ceased to mourn; but as she walked alone she would wonder more and more what it might be, this great love that she did not feel.
"For none will tell me, not even the Bishop of Modenstein," said she.