THE DUKE’S DILEMMA.

A CHRONICLE OF NIESENSTEIN.

[MAGA. September 1853.]

The close of the theatrical year, which in France occurs in early spring, annually brings to Paris a throng of actors and actresses, the disorganised elements of provincial companies, who repair to the capital to contract engagements for the new season. Paris is the grand centre to which all dramatic stars converge—the great bazaar where managers recruit their troops for the summer campaign. In bad weather the mart for this human merchandise is at an obscure coffee-house near the Rue St Honoré; when the sun shines, the place of meeting is in the garden of the Palais Royal. There, pacing to and fro beneath the lime-trees, the high contracting parties pursue their negotiations and make their bargains. It is the theatrical Exchange, the histrionic Bourse. There the conversation and the company are alike curious. Many are the strange discussions and original anecdotes that there are heard; many the odd figures there paraded. Tragedians, comedians, singers, men and women, young and old, flock thither in quest of fortune and a good engagement. The threadbare coats of some say little in favour of recent success or present prosperity; but only hear them speak, and you are at once convinced that they have no need of broadcloth who are so amply covered with laurels. It is delightful to hear them talk of their triumphs, of the storms of applause, the rapturous bravos, the boundless enthusiasm, of the audiences they lately delighted. Their brows are oppressed with the weight of their bays. The south mourns their loss; if they go west, the north will be envious and inconsolable. As to themselves—north, south, east, or west—they care little to which point of the compass the breeze of their destiny may waft them. Thorough gypsies in their habits, accustomed to make the best of the passing hour, and to take small care for the future so long as the present is provided for, like soldiers they heed not the name of the town so long as the quarters be good.

It was a fine morning in April. The sun shone brightly, and, amongst the numerous loungers in the garden of the Palais Royal were several groups of actors. The season was already far advanced; all the companies were formed, and those players who had not secured an engagement had but a poor chance of finding one. Their anxiety was legible upon their countenances. A man of about fifty years of age walked to and fro, a newspaper in his hand, and to him, when he passed near them, the actors bowed—respectfully and hopefully. A quick glance was his acknowledgment of their salutation, and then his eyes reverted to his paper, as if it deeply interested him. When he was out of hearing, the actors, who had assumed their most picturesque attitudes to attract his attention, and who beheld their labour lost, vented their ill-humour.

“Balthasar is mighty proud,” said one; “he has not a word to say to us.”

“Perhaps he does not want anybody,” remarked another; “I think he has no theatre this year.”

“That would be odd. They say he is a clever manager.”

“He may best prove his cleverness by keeping aloof. It is so difficult nowadays to do good in the provinces. The public is so fastidious! the authorities are so shabby, so unwilling to put their hands in their pockets. Ah, my dear fellow, our art is sadly fallen!”

Whilst the discontented actors bemoaned themselves, Balthasar eagerly accosted a young man who just then entered the garden by the passage of the Perron. The coffehouse-keepers had already begun to put out tables under the tender foliage. The two men sat down at one of them.

“Well, Florival,” said the manager, “does my offer suit you? Will you make one of us? I was glad to hear you had broken off with Ricardin. With your qualifications you ought to have an engagement in Paris, or at least at a first-rate provincial theatre. But you are young, and, as you know, managers prefer actors of greater experience and established reputation. Your parts are generally taken by youths of five-and-forty, with wrinkles and grey hairs, but well versed in the traditions of the stage—with damaged voices but an excellent style. My brother managers are greedy of great names; yours still has to become known—as yet, you have but your talent to recommend you. I will content myself with that; content yourself with what I offer you. Times are bad, the season is advanced, engagements are hard to find. Many of your comrades have gone to try their luck beyond seas. We have not so far to go; we shall scarcely overstep the boundary of our ungrateful country. Germany invites us; it is a pleasant land, and Rhine wine is not to be disdained. I will tell you how the thing came about. For many years past I have managed theatres in the eastern departments, in Alsatia and Lorraine. Last summer, having a little leisure, I made an excursion to Baden-Baden. As usual, it was crowded with fashionables. One rubbed shoulders with princes and trod upon highnesses’ toes; one could not walk twenty yards without meeting a sovereign. All these crowned heads, kings, grand-dukes, electors, mingled easily and affably with the throng of visitors. Etiquette is banished from the baths of Baden, where, without laying aside their titles, great personages enjoy the liberty and advantages of an incognito. At the time of my visit, a company of very indifferent German actors were playing, two or three times a-week, in the little theatre. They played to empty benches, and must have starved but for the assistance afforded them by the directors of the gambling-tables. I often went to their performances, and, amongst the scanty spectators, I soon remarked one who was as assiduous as myself. A gentleman, very plainly dressed, but of agreeable countenance and aristocratic appearance, invariably occupied the same stall, and seemed to enjoy the performance, which proved that he was easily pleased. One night he addressed to me some remark with respect to the play then acting; we got into conversation on the subject of dramatic art; he saw that I was specially competent on that topic, and after the theatre he asked me to take refreshment with him. I accepted. At midnight we parted, and, as I was going home, I met a gambler whom I slightly knew. ‘I congratulate you,’ he said; ‘you have friends in high places!’ He alluded to the gentleman with whom I had passed the evening, and who I now learned was no less a personage than his Serene Highness Prince Leopold, sovereign ruler of the Grand Duchy of Niesenstein. I had had the honour of passing a whole evening in familiar intercourse with a crowned head. Next day, walking in the park, I met his highness. I made a low bow and kept at a respectful distance, but the Grand Duke came up to me and asked me to walk with him. Before accepting, I thought it right to inform him who I was. ‘I guessed as much,’ said the Prince. ‘From one or two things that last night escaped you, I made no doubt you were a theatrical manager.’ And by a gesture he renewed his invitation to accompany him. In a long conversation he informed me of his intention to establish a French theatre in his capital, for the performance of comedy, drama, vaudeville, and comic operas. He was then building a large theatre, which would be ready by the end of the winter, and he offered me its management on very advantageous terms. I had no plans in France for the present year, and the offer was too good to be refused. The Grand Duke guaranteed my expenses and a gratuity, and there was a chance of very large profits. I hesitated not a moment; we exchanged promises, and the affair was concluded.

“According to our agreement, I am to be at Karlstadt, the capital of the Grand Duchy of Niesenstein, in the first week in May. There is no time to lose. My company is almost complete, but there are still some important gaps to fill. Amongst others, I want a lover, a light comedian, and a first singer. I reckon upon you to fill these important posts.”

“I am quite willing,” replied the actor, “but there is still an obstacle. You must know, my dear Balthasar, that I am deeply in love—seriously, this time—and I broke off with Ricardin solely because he would not engage her to whom I am attached.”

“Oho! she is an actress?”

“Two years upon the stage; a lovely girl, full of grace and talent, and with a charming voice. The Opera Comique has not a singer to compare with her.”

“And she is disengaged?”

“Yes, my dear fellow; strange though it seems, and by a combination of circumstances which it were tedious to detail, the fascinating Delia is still without an engagement. And I give you notice that henceforward I attach myself to her steps: where she goes, I go; I will perform upon no boards which she does not tread. I am determined to win her heart, and make her my wife.”

“Very good!” cried Balthasar, rising from his seat; “tell me the address of this prodigy: I run, I fly, I make every sacrifice; and we will start to-morrow.”

People were quite right in saying that Balthasar was a clever manager. None better knew how to deal with actors, often capricious and difficult to guide. He possessed skill, taste, and tact. One hour after the conversation in the garden of the Palais Royal, he had obtained the signatures of Delia and Florival, two excellent acquisitions, destined to do him infinite honour in Germany. That night his little company was complete, and the next day, after a good dinner, it started for Strasburg. It was composed as follows:

Balthasar, manager, was to play the old men, and take the heavy business.

Florival was the leading man, the lover, and the first singer.

Rigolet was the low comedian, and took the parts usually played by Arnal and Bouffé.

Similor was to perform the valets in Molière’s comedies, and eccentric low comedy characters.

Anselmo was the walking gentleman.

Lebel led the band.

Miss Delia was to display her charms and talents as prima donna, and in genteel comedy.

Miss Foligny was the singing chambermaid.

Miss Alice was the walking lady, and made herself generally useful.

Finally, Madame Pastorale, the duenna of the company, was to perform the old women, and look after the young ones.

Although so few, the company trusted to atone by zeal and industry for numerical deficiency. It would be easy to find, in the capital of the Grand Duchy, persons capable of filling mute parts, and, in most plays, a few unimportant characters might be suppressed.

The travellers reached Strasburg without adventure worthy of note. There Balthasar allowed them six-and-thirty hours’ repose, and took advantage of the halt to write to the Grand Duke Leopold, and inform him of his approaching arrival; then they again started, crossed the Rhine at Kehl, and in thirty hours, after traversing several small German states, reached the frontier of the Grand Duchy of Niesenstein, and stopped at a little village called Krusthal. From this village to the capital the distance was only four leagues, but means of conveyance were wanting. There was but a single stagecoach on that line of road; it would not leave Krusthal for two days, and it held but six persons. No other vehicles were to be had; it was necessary to wait, and the necessity was anything but pleasant. The actors made wry faces at the prospect of passing forty-eight hours in a wretched village. The only persons who easily made up their minds to the wearisome delay were Delia and Florival. The first singer was desperately in love, and the prima donna was not insensible to his delicate attentions and tender discourse.

Balthasar, the most impatient and persevering of all, went out to explore the village. In an hour’s time he returned in triumph to his friends, in a light cart drawn by a strong horse. Unfortunately the cart held but two persons.

“I will set out alone,” said Balthasar. “On reaching Karlstadt, I will go to the Grand Duke, explain our position, and I have no doubt he will immediately send carriages to convey you to his capital.”

These consolatory words were received with loud cheers by the actors. The driver, a peasant lad, cracked his whip, and the stout Mecklenburg horse set out at a small trot. Upon the way, Balthasar questioned his guide as to the extent, resources, and prosperity of the Grand Duchy, but could obtain no satisfactory reply; the young peasant was profoundly ignorant upon all these subjects. The four leagues were got over in something less than three hours, which is rather rapid travelling for Germany. It was nearly dark when Balthasar entered Karlstadt. The shops were shut, and there were few persons in the streets; people are early in their habits in the happy lands on the Rhine’s right bank. Presently the cart stopped before a good-sized house.

“You told me to take you to our prince’s palace,” said the driver, “and here it is.” Balthasar alighted and entered the dwelling, unchallenged and unimpeded by the sentry who paced lazily up and down in its front. In the entrance-hall the manager met a porter, who bowed gravely to him as he passed; he walked on and passed through an empty anteroom. In the first apartment, appropriated to gentlemen-in-waiting, aides-de-camp, equerries, and other dignitaries of various degree, he found nobody; in a second saloon, lighted by a dim and smoky lamp, was an old gentleman, dressed in black, with powdered hair, who rose slowly at his entrance, looked at him with surprise, and inquired his pleasure.

“I wish to see his Serene Highness, the Grand Duke Leopold,” replied Balthasar.

“The prince does not grant audiences at this hour,” the old gentleman dryly answered.

“His Highness expects me,” was the confident reply of Balthasar.

“That is another thing. I will inquire if it be his Highness’s pleasure to receive you. Whom shall I announce?”

“The manager of the Court theatre.”

The gentleman bowed, and left Balthasar alone. The pertinacious manager already began to doubt the success of his audacity, when he heard the Grand Duke’s voice, saying, “Show him in.”

He entered. The sovereign of Niesenstein was alone, seated in a large arm-chair, at a table covered with a green cloth, upon which were a confused medley of letters and newspapers, an inkstand, a tobacco-bag, two wax-lights, a sugar-basin, a sword, a plate, gloves, a bottle, books, and a goblet of Bohemian glass, artistically engraved. His Highness was engrossed in a thoroughly national occupation; he was smoking one of those long pipes which Germans rarely lay aside except to eat or to sleep.

The manager of the Court theatre bowed thrice, as if he had been advancing to the foot-lights to address the public; then he stood still and silent, awaiting the prince’s pleasure. But, although he said nothing, his countenance was so expressive that the Grand Duke answered him.

“Yes,” he said, “here you are. I recollect you perfectly, and I have not forgotten our agreement. But you come at a very unfortunate moment, my dear sir!”

“I crave your Highness’s pardon if I have chosen an improper hour to seek an audience,” replied Balthasar with another bow.

“It is not the hour that I am thinking of,” answered the prince quickly. “Would that were all! See, here is your letter; I was just now reading it, and regretting that, instead of writing to me only three days ago, when you were half-way here, you had not done so two or three weeks before starting.”

“I did wrong.”

“More so than you think; for, had you sooner warned me, I would have spared you a useless journey.”

“Useless!” exclaimed Balthasar aghast. “Has your Highness changed your mind?”

“Not at all; I am still passionately fond of the drama, and should be delighted to have a French theatre here. As far as that goes, my ideas and tastes are in no way altered since last summer; but, unfortunately, I am unable to satisfy them. Look here,” continued the prince, rising from his arm-chair. He took Balthasar’s arm and led him to a window: “I told you, last year, that I was building a magnificent theatre in my capital.”

“Your Highness did tell me so.”

“Well, look yonder, on the other side of the square; there the theatre is!”

“Your Highness, I see nothing but an open space; a building commenced, and as yet scarcely risen above the foundation.”

“Precisely so; that is the theatre.”

“Your Highness told me it would be completed before the end of winter.”

“I did not then foresee that I should have to stop the works for want of cash to pay the workmen. Such is my present position. If I have no theatre ready to receive you, and if I cannot take you and your company into my pay, it is because I have not the means. The coffers of the State and my privy purse are alike empty. You are astounded!—Adversity respects nobody—not even Grand Dukes. But I support its assaults with philosophy: try to follow my example; and, by way of a beginning, take a chair and a pipe, fill yourself a glass of wine, and drink to the return of my prosperity. Since you suffer for my misfortunes, I owe you an explanation. Although I never had much order in my expenditure, I had every reason, at the time I first met with you, to believe my finances in a flourishing condition. It was not until the commencement of the present year that I discovered the contrary to be the case. Last year was a bad one; hail ruined our crops, and money was hard to get in. The salaries of my household were in arrear, and my officers murmured. For the first time I ordered a statement of my affairs to be laid before me, and I found that ever since my accession I had been exceeding my revenue. My first act of sovereignty had been a considerable diminution of the taxes paid to my predecessors. Hence the evil, which had annually augmented, and now I am ruined, loaded with debts, and without means of repairing the disaster. My privy-councillors certainly proposed a way; it was to double the taxes, raise extraordinary contributions—to squeeze my subjects, in short. A fine plan, indeed! to make the poor pay for my improvidence and disorder! Such things may occur in other States, but they shall not occur in mine. Justice before everything. I prefer enduring my difficulties to making my subjects suffer.”

“Excellent prince!” exclaimed Balthasar, touched by these generous sentiments. The Grand Duke smiled.

“Do you turn flatterer?” he said. “Beware! it is an arduous post, and you will have none to help you. I have no longer wherewith to pay flatterers; my courtiers have fled. You have seen the emptiness of my anterooms; you met neither chamberlain nor equerry upon your entrance. All those gentlemen have given in their resignations. The civil and military officers of my house, secretaries, aides-de-camp, and others, left me, because I could no longer pay them their wages. I am alone; a few faithful and patient servants are all that remain, and the most important personage of my court is now honest Sigismund, my old valet-de-chambre.”

These last words were spoken in a melancholy tone, which pained Balthasar. The eyes of the honest manager glistened. The Grand Duke detected his sympathy.

“Do not pity me,” he said with a smile. “It is no sorrow to me to have got rid of a wearisome etiquette, and, at the same time, of a pack of spies and hypocrites, by whom I was formerly from morning till night beset.”

The cheerful frankness of the Grand Duke’s manner forbade doubt of his sincerity. Balthasar congratulated him on his courage.

“I need it more than you think!” replied Leopold, “and I cannot answer for having enough to support the blows that threaten me. The desertion of my courtiers would be nothing did I owe it only to the bad state of my finances: as soon as I found myself in funds again I could buy others or take back the old ones, and amuse myself by putting my foot upon their servile necks. Then they would be as humble as now they are insolent. But their defection is an omen of other dangers. As the diplomatists say, clouds are at the political horizon. Poverty alone would not have sufficed to clear my palace of men who are as greedy of honours as they are of money; they would have waited for better days; their vanity would have consoled their avarice. If they fled, it was because they felt the ground shake beneath their feet, and because they are in league with my enemies. I cannot shut my eyes to impending dangers. I am on bad terms with Austria; Metternich looks askance at me; at Vienna I am considered too liberal, too popular: they say that I set a bad example; they reproach me with cheap government, and with not making my subjects sufficiently feel the yoke. Thus do they accumulate pretexts for playing me a scurvy trick. One of my cousins, a colonel in the Austrian service, covets my Grand Duchy. Although I say grand, it is but ten leagues long and eight leagues broad: but such as it is, it suits me; I am accustomed to it, I have the habit of ruling it, and I should miss it were I deprived of it. My cousin has the audacity to dispute my incontestable rights; this is a mere pretext for litigation, but he has carried the case before the Aulic Council, and notwithstanding the excellence of my right I still may lose my cause, for I have no money wherewith to enlighten my judges. My enemies are powerful, treason surrounds me; they try to take advantage of my financial embarrassments, first to make me bankrupt and then to depose me. In this critical conjuncture, I should be only too delighted to have a company of players to divert my thoughts from my troubles—but I have neither theatre nor money. So it is impossible for me to keep you, my dear manager, and, believe me, I am as grieved at it as you can be. All I can do is to give you, out of the little I have left, a small indemnity to cover your travelling expenses and take you back to France. Come and see me to-morrow morning; we will settle this matter, and you shall take your leave.”

Balthasar’s attention and sympathy had been so completely engrossed by the Grand Duke’s misfortunes, and by his revelations of his political and financial difficulties, that his own troubles had quite gone out of his thoughts. When he quitted the palace they came back upon him like a thunder-cloud. How was he to satisfy the actors, whom he had brought two hundred leagues away from Paris? What could he say to them, how appease them? The unhappy manager passed a miserable night. At daybreak he rose and went out into the open air, to calm his agitation and seek a mode of extrication from his difficulties. During a two hours’ walk he had abundant time to visit every corner of Karlstadt, and to admire the beauties of that celebrated capital. He found it an elegant town, with wide straight streets cutting completely across it, so that he could see through it at a glance. The houses were pretty and uniform, and the windows were provided with small indiscreet mirrors, which reflected the passers-by and transported the street into the drawing-room, so that the worthy Karlstadters could satisfy their curiosity without quitting their easy chairs. An innocent recreation, much affected by German burghers. As regarded trade and manufactures, the capital of the Grand Duchy of Niesenstein did not seem to be very much occupied with either. It was anything but a bustling city; luxury had made but little progress there; and its prosperity was due chiefly to the moderate desires and phlegmatic philosophy of its inhabitants.

In such a country a company of actors had no chance of a livelihood. There is nothing for it but to return to France, thought Balthasar, after making the circuit of the city: then he looked at his watch, and, deeming the hour suitable, he took the road to the palace, which he entered with as little ceremony as upon the preceding evening. The faithful Sigismund, doing duty as gentleman-in-waiting, received him as an old acquaintance, and forthwith ushered him into the Grand Duke’s presence. His Highness seemed more depressed than upon the previous day. He was pacing the room with long strides, his eyes cast down, his arms folded. In his hand he held papers, whose perusal it apparently was that had thus discomposed him. For some moments he said nothing; then he suddenly stopped before Balthasar.

“You find me less calm,” he said, “than I was last night. I have just received unpleasant news. I am heartily sick of these perpetual vexations, and gladly would I resign this poor sovereignty, this crown of thorns they seek to snatch from me, did not honour command me to maintain to the last my legitimate rights. Yes,” vehemently exclaimed the Grand Duke, “at this moment a tranquil existence is all I covet, and I would willingly give up my Grand Duchy, my title, my crown, to live quietly at Paris, as a private gentleman, upon thirty thousand francs a-year.”

“I believe so, indeed!” cried Balthasar, who, in his wildest dreams of fortune, had never dared aspire so high. His artless exclamation made the prince smile. It needed but a trifle to dissipate his vexation, and to restore that upper current of easy good temper which habitually floated upon the surface of his character.

“You think,” he gaily cried, “that some, in my place, would be satisfied with less, and that thirty thousand francs a-year, with independence and the pleasures of Paris, compose a lot more enviable than the government of all the Grand Duchies in the world. My own experience tells me that you are right; for, ten years ago, when I was but hereditary prince, I passed six months at Paris, rich, independent, careless; and memory declares those to have been the happiest days of my life.”

“Well! if you were to sell all you have, could you not realise that fortune? Besides, the cousin, of whom you did me the honour to speak to me yesterday, would probably gladly insure you an income if you yielded him your place here. But will your Highness permit me to speak plainly?”

“By all means.”

“The tranquil existence of a private gentleman would doubtless have many charms for you, and you say so in all sincerity of heart; but, upon the other hand, you set store by your crown, though you may not admit it to yourself. In a moment of annoyance it is easy to exaggerate the charms of tranquillity, and the pleasures of private life; but a throne, however rickety, is a seat which none willingly quit. That is my opinion, formed at the dramatic school: it is perhaps a reminiscence of some old part, but truth is sometimes found upon the stage. Since, therefore, all things considered, to stay where you are is that which best becomes you, you ought——But I crave your Highness’s pardon, I am perhaps speaking too freely——”

“Speak on, my dear manager, freely and fearlessly; I listen to you with pleasure. I ought, you were about to say?——”

“Instead of abandoning yourself to despair and poetry, instead of contenting yourself with succumbing nobly, like some ancient Roman, you ought boldly to combat the peril. Circumstances are favourable; you have neither ministers nor state-councillors to mislead you, and embarrass your plans. Strong in your good right, and in your subjects’ love, it is impossible you should not find means of retrieving your finances and strengthening your position.”

“There is but one means, and that is—a good marriage.”

“Excellent! I had not thought of it. You are a bachelor! A good marriage is salvation. It is thus that great houses, menaced with ruin, regain their former splendour. You must marry an heiress, the only daughter of some rich banker.”

“You forget—it would be derogatory. I am free from such prejudices, but what would Austria say if I thus condescended? It would be another charge to bring against me. And then a banker’s millions would not suffice; I must ally myself with a powerful family, whose influence will strengthen mine. Only a few days ago, I thought such an alliance within my grasp. A neighbouring prince, Maximilian of Hanau, who is in high favour at Vienna, has a sister to marry. The Princess Wilhelmina is young, handsome, amiable, and rich; I have already entered upon the preliminaries of a matrimonial negotiation, but two despatches, received this morning, destroy all my hopes. Hence the low spirits in which you find me.”

“Perhaps,” said Balthasar, “your Highness too easily gives way to discouragement.”

“Judge for yourself. I have a rival, the Elector of Saxe-Tolpelhausen; his territories are less considerable than mine, but he is more solidly established in his little electorate than I am in my grand-duchy.”

“Pardon me, your Highness; I saw the Elector of Saxe-Tolpelhausen last year at Baden-Baden, and, without flattery, he cannot for an instant be compared with your Highness. You are hardly thirty, and he is more than forty; you have a good figure, he is heavy, clumsy, and ill-made; your countenance is noble and agreeable, his common and displeasing; your hair is light brown, his bright red. The Princess Wilhelmina is sure to prefer you.”

“Perhaps so, if she were asked; but she is in the power of her august brother, who will marry her to whom he pleases.”

“That must be prevented.”

“How?”

“By winning the young lady’s affections. Love has so many resources. Every day one sees marriages for money broken off, and replaced by marriages for love.”

“Yes, one sees that in plays——”

“Which afford excellent lessons.”

“For people of a certain class, but not for princes.”

“Why not make the attempt? If I dared advise you, it would be to set out to-morrow, and pay a visit to the Prince of Hanau.”

“Unnecessary. To see the prince and his sister, I need not stir hence. One of these despatches announces their early arrival at Karlstadt. They are on their way hither. On their return from a journey into Prussia, they pass through my territories and pause in my capital, inviting themselves as my guests for two or three days. Their visit is my ruin. What will they think of me when they find me alone, deserted, in my empty palace? Do you suppose the Princess will be tempted to share my dismal solitude? Last year she went to Saxe-Tolpelhausen. The Elector entertained her well, and made his court agreeable. He could place chamberlains and aides-de-camp at her orders, could give concerts, balls, and festivals. But I—what can I do? What a humiliation! And, that no affront may be spared to me, my rival proposes negotiating his marriage at my own court! Nothing less, it seems, will satisfy him! He has just sent me an ambassador, Baron Pippinstir, deputed, he writes, to conclude a commercial treaty which will be extremely advantageous to me. The treaty is but a pretext. The Baron’s true mission is to the Prince of Hanau. The meeting is skilfully contrived, for the secret and unostentatious conclusion of the matrimonial treaty. This is what I am condemned to witness! I must endure this outrage and mortification, and display, before the prince and his sister, my misery and poverty. I would do anything to avoid such shame!”

“Means might, perhaps, be found,” said Balthasar, after a moment’s reflection.

“Means? Speak, and whatever they be, I adopt them.”

“The plan is a bold one!” continued Balthasar, speaking half to the Grand Duke and half to himself, as if pondering and weighing a project.

“No matter! I will risk everything.”

“You would like to conceal your real position, to re-people this palace, to have a court?”

“Yes.”

“Do you think the courtiers who have deserted you would return?”

“Never. Did I not tell you they are sold to my enemies?”

“Could you not select others from the higher class of your subjects?”

“Impossible! There are very few gentlemen amongst my subjects. Ah! if a court could be got up at a day’s notice! though it were to be composed of the humblest citizens of Karlstadt——”

“I have better than that to offer you.”

You have? And whom do you offer?” cried Duke Leopold, greatly astonished.

“My actors.”

“What! you would have me make up a court of your actors?”

“Yes, your Highness, and you could not do better. Observe that my actors are accustomed to play all manner of parts, and that they will be perfectly at their ease when performing those of noblemen and high officials. I answer for their talent, discretion, and probity. As soon as your illustrious guests have departed, and you no longer need their services, they shall resign their posts. Bear in mind that you have no other alternative. Time is short, danger at your door, hesitation is destruction.”

“But, if such a trick were discovered!——”

“A mere supposition, a chimerical fear. On the other hand, if you do not run the risk I propose, your ruin is certain.”

The Grand Duke was easily persuaded. Careless and easy-going, he yet was not wanting in determination, nor in a certain love of hazardous enterprises. He remembered that fortune is said to favour the bold, and his desperate position increased his courage. With joyful intrepidity he accepted and adopted Balthasar’s scheme.

“Bravo!” cried the manager; “you shall have no cause to repent. You behold in me a sample of your future courtiers; and since honours and dignities are to be distributed, it is with me, if you please, that we will begin. In this request I act up to the spirit of my part. A courtier should always be asking for something, should lose no opportunity, and should profit by his rivals’ absence to obtain the best place. I entreat your Highness to have the goodness to name me prime minister.”

“Granted!” gaily replied the prince. “Your Excellency may immediately enter upon your functions.”

“My Excellency will not fail to do so, and begins by requesting your signature to a few decrees I am about to draw up. But in the first place, your Highness must be so good as to answer two or three questions, that I may understand the position of affairs. A new-comer in a country, and a novice in a minister’s office, has need of instruction. If it became necessary to enforce your commands, have you the means of so doing?”

“Undoubtedly.”

“Your Highness has soldiers?”

“A regiment.”

“How many men?”

“One hundred and twenty, besides the musicians.”

“Are they obedient, devoted?”

“Passive obedience, unbounded devotion; soldiers and officers would die for me to the last man.”

“It is their duty. Another question: Have you a prison in your dominions?”

“Certainly.”

“I mean a good prison, strong and well-guarded, with thick walls, solid bars, stern and incorruptible jailors?”

“I have every reason to believe that the Castle of Zwingenberg combines all those requisites. The fact is, I have made very little use of it; but it was built by a man who understood such matters—by my father’s great-grandfather, Rudolph the Inflexible.”

“A fine surname for a sovereign! Your Inflexible ancestor, I am very sure, never lacked either cash or courtiers. Your Highness has perhaps done wrong to leave the state-prison untenanted. A prison requires to be inhabited, like any other building; and the first act of the authority with which you have been pleased to invest me, will be a salutary measure of incarceration. I presume the Castle of Zwingenberg will accommodate a score of prisoners?”

“What! you are going to imprison twenty persons?”

“More or less. I do not yet know the exact number of the persons who composed your late court. They it is whom I propose lodging within the lofty walls constructed by the Inflexible Rudolph. The measure is indispensable.”

“But it is illegal!”

“I crave your Highness’s pardon; you use a word I do not understand. It seems to me that, in every good German government, that which is absolutely necessary is necessarily legal. That is my policy. Moreover, as prime minister, I am responsible. What would you have more? It is plain that, if we leave your courtiers their liberty, it will be impossible to perform our comedy; they will betray us. Therefore the welfare of the state imperatively demands their imprisonment. Besides, you yourself have said that they are traitors, and therefore they deserve punishment. For your own safety’s sake, for the success of your project—which will insure the happiness of your subjects—write the names, sign the order, and inflict upon the deserters the lenient chastisement of a week’s captivity.”

The Grand Duke wrote the names and signed several orders, which were forthwith intrusted to the most active and determined officers of the regiment, with instructions to make the arrests at once, and to take their prisoners to the Castle of Zwingenberg, at three quarters of a league from Karlstadt.

“All that now remains to be done is to send for your new court,” said Balthasar. “Has your Highness carriages?”

“Certainly! a berlin, a barouche, and a cabriolet.”

“And horses?”

“Six draught and two saddle.”

“I take the barouche, the berlin, and four horses; I go to Krusthal, put my actors up to their parts, and bring them here this evening. We instal ourselves in the palace, and shall be at once at your Highness’s orders.”

“Very good; but, before going, write an answer to Baron Pippinstir, who asks an audience.”

“Two lines, very dry and official, putting him off till to-morrow. We must be under arms to receive him.... Here is the note written, but how shall I sign it? The name of Balthasar is not very suitable to a German Excellency.”

“True, you must have another name, and a title; I create you Count Lipandorf.”

“Thanks, your Highness. I will bear the title nobly, and restore it to you faithfully, with my seals of office, when the comedy is played out.”

Count Lipandorf signed the letter, which Sigismund was ordered to take to Baron Pippinstir; then he started for Krusthal.

Next morning, the Grand Duke Leopold held a levee, which was attended by all the officers of his new court. And as soon as he was dressed he received the ladies with infinite grace and affability.

Ladies and officers were attired in their most elegant theatrical costumes; the Grand Duke appeared greatly satisfied with their bearing and manners. The first compliments over, there came a general distribution of titles and offices.

The lover, Florival, was appointed aide-de-camp to the Grand Duke, colonel of hussars, and Count Reinsburg.

Rigolet, the low comedian, was named grand chamberlain, and Baron Fidibus.

Similor, who performed the valets, was master of the horse and Baron Kockemburg.

Anselmo, walking gentleman, was promoted to be gentleman in waiting and Chevalier Grillenfanger.

The leader of the band, Lebel, was appointed superintendant of the music and amusements of the court, with the title of Chevalier Arpeggio.

The prima donna, Miss Delia, was created Countess of Rosenthal, an interesting orphan, whose dowry was to be the hereditary office of first lady of honour to the future Grand Duchess.

Miss Foligny, the singing chambermaid, was appointed widow of a general and Baroness Allenzau.

Miss Alice, walking lady, became Miss Fidibus, daughter of the chamberlain, and a rich heiress.

Finally, the duenna, Madame Pastorale, was called to the responsible station of mistress of the robes and governess of the maids of honour, under the imposing title of Baroness Schicklick.

The new dignitaries received decorations in proportion to their rank. Count Balthasar von Lipandorf, prime minister, had two stars and three grand crosses. The aide-de-camp, Florival von Reinsberg, fastened five crosses upon the breast of his hussar jacket.

The parts duly distributed and learned, there was a rehearsal, which went off excellently well. The Grand Duke deigned to superintend the getting up of the piece, and to give the actors a few useful hints.

Prince Maximilian of Hanau and his august sister were expected that evening. Time was precious. Pending their arrival, and by way of practising his court, the Grand Duke gave audience to the ambassador from Saxe-Tolpelhausen.

Baron Pippinstir was ushered into the Hall of the Throne. He had asked permission to present his wife at the same time as his credentials, and that favour had been granted him.

At sight of the diplomatist, the new courtiers, as yet unaccustomed to rigid decorum, had difficulty in keeping their countenances. The Baron was a man of fifty, prodigiously tall, singularly thin, abundantly powdered, with legs like hop-poles, clad in knee breeches and white silk stockings. A long slender pigtail danced upon his flexible back. He had a face like a bird of prey—little round eyes, a receding chin, and an enormous hooked nose. It was scarcely possible to look at him without laughing, especially when one saw him for the first time. His apple-green coat glittered with a profusion of embroidery. His chest being too narrow to admit of a horizontal development of his decorations, he wore them in two columns, extending from his collar to his waist. When he approached the Grand Duke, with a self-satisfied simper and a jaunty air, his sword by his side, his cocked hat under his arm, nothing was wanting to complete the caricature.

The Baroness Pippinstir was a total contrast to her husband. She was a pretty little woman of five-and-twenty, as plump as a partridge, with a lively eye, a nice figure, and an engaging smile. There was mischief in her glance, seduction in her dimples, and the rose’s tint upon her cheeks. Her dress was the only ridiculous thing about her. To come to court, the little Baroness had put on all the finery she could muster; she sailed into the hall under a cloud of ribbons, sparkling with jewels and fluttering with plumes—the loftiest of which, however, scarcely reached to the shoulder of her lanky spouse.

Completely identifying himself with his part of prime minister, Balthasar, as soon as this oddly-assorted pair appeared, decided upon his plan of campaign. His natural penetration told him the diplomatist’s weak point. He felt that the Baron, who was old and ugly, must be jealous of his wife, who was young and pretty. He was not mistaken. Pippinstir was as jealous as a tiger-cat. Recently married, the meagre diplomatist had not dared to leave his wife at Saxe-Tolpelhausen, for fear of accidents; he would not lose sight of her, and had brought her to Karlstadt in the arrogant belief that danger vanished in his presence.

After exchanging a few diplomatic phrases with the ambassador, Balthasar took Colonel Florival aside and gave him secret instructions. The dashing officer passed his hand through his richly-curling locks, adjusted his splendid pelisse, and approached Baroness Pippinstir. The ambassadress received him graciously; the handsome colonel had already attracted her attention, and soon she was delighted with his wit and gallant speeches. Florival did not lack imagination, and his memory was stored with well-turned phrases and sentimental tirades, borrowed from stage-plays. He spoke half from inspiration, half from memory, and he was listened to with favour.

The conversation was carried on in French—for the best of reasons.

“It is the custom here,” said the Grand Duke to the ambassador; “French is the only language spoken in this palace; it is a regulation I had some difficulty in enforcing, and I was at last obliged to decree that a heavy penalty should be paid for every German word spoken by a person attached to my court. That proved effectual, and you will not easily catch any of these ladies and gentlemen tripping. My prime minister, Count Balthasar von Lipandorf, is the only one who is permitted occasionally to speak his native language.”

Balthasar, who had long managed theatres in Alsace and Lorraine, spoke German like a Frankfort brewer.

Meanwhile, Baron Pippinstir’s uneasiness was extreme. Whilst his wife conversed in a low voice with the young and fascinating aide-de-camp, the pitiless prime minister held his arm tight, and explained at great length his views with respect to the famous commercial treaty. Caught in his own snare, the unlucky diplomatist was in agony; he fidgeted to get away, his countenance expressed grievous uneasiness, his lean legs were convulsively agitated. But in vain did he endeavour to abridge his torments; the remorseless Balthasar relinquished not his prey.

Sigismund, promoted to be steward of the household, announced dinner. The ambassador and his lady had been invited to dine, as well as all the courtiers. The aide-de-camp was placed next to the Baroness, the Baron at the other end of the table. The torture was prolonged. Florival continued to whisper soft nonsense to the fair and well-pleased Pippinstir. The diplomatist could not eat.

There was another person present whom Florival’s flirtation annoyed, and that person was Delia, Countess of Rosenthal. After dinner, Balthasar, whom nothing escaped, took her aside.

“You know very well,” said the minister, “that he is only acting a part in a comedy. Should you feel hurt if he declared his love upon the stage, to one of your comrades? Here it is the same thing; all this is but a play; when the curtain falls, he will return to you.”

A courier announced that the Prince of Hanau and his sister were within a league of Karlstadt. The Grand Duke, attended by Count Reinsberg and some officers, went to meet them. It was dark when the illustrious guests reached the palace; they passed through the great saloon, where the whole court was assembled to receive them, and retired at once to their apartments.

“The game is fairly begun,” said the Grand Duke to his prime minister; “and now, may heaven help us!”

“Fear nothing,” replied Balthasar. “The glimpse I caught of Prince Maximilian’s physiognomy satisfied me that everything will pass off perfectly well, and without exciting the least suspicion. As to Baron Pippinstir, he is already blind with jealousy, and Florival will give him so much to do, that he will have no time to attend to his master’s business. Things look well.”

Next morning, the Prince and Princess of Hanau were welcomed, on awakening, by a serenade from the regimental band. The weather was beautiful; the Grand Duke proposed an excursion out of town; he was glad of an opportunity to show his guests the best features of his duchy—a delightful country, and many picturesque points of view, much prized and sketched by German landscape-painters. The proposal agreed to, the party set out, in carriages and on horseback, for the old Castle of Rauberzell—magnificent ruins, dating from the middle ages, and famous far and wide. At a short distance from the castle, which lifted its grey turrets upon the summit of a wooded hill, the Princess Wilhelmina expressed a wish to walk the remainder of the way. Everybody followed her example. The Grand Duke offered her his arm; the Prince gave his to the Countess Delia von Rosenthal; and, at a sign from Balthasar, Baroness Pastorale von Schicklick took possession of Baron Pippinstir; whilst the smiling Baroness accepted Florival’s escort. The young people walked at a brisk pace. The unfortunate Baron would gladly have availed himself of his long legs to keep up with his coquettish wife; but the duenna, portly and ponderous, hung upon his arm, checked his ardour, and detained him in the rear. Respect for the mistress of the robes forbade rebellion or complaint.

Amidst the ruins of the venerable castle, the distinguished party found a table spread with an elegant collation. It was an agreeable surprise, and the Grand Duke had all the credit of an idea suggested to him by his prime minister.

The whole day was passed in rambling through the beautiful forest of Rauberzell. The Princess was charming; nothing could exceed the high-breeding of the courtiers, or the fascination and elegance of the ladies; and Prince Maximilian warmly congratulated the Grand Duke on having a court composed of such agreeable and accomplished persons. Baroness Pippinstir declared, in a moment of enthusiasm, that the court of Saxe-Tolpelhausen was not to compare with that of Niesenstein. She could hardly have said anything more completely at variance with the object of her husband’s mission. The Baron was near fainting.

Like not a few of her countrywomen, the Princess Wilhelmina had a strong predilection for Parisian fashions. She admired everything that came from France; she spoke French perfectly, and greatly approved the Grand Duke’s decree, forbidding any other language to be spoken at his court. Moreover, there was nothing extraordinary in such a regulation; French is the language of all the northern courts. But she was greatly tickled at the notion of a fine being inflicted for a single German word. She amused herself by trying to catch some of the Grand Duke’s courtiers transgressing in this respect. Her labour was completely lost.

That evening, at the palace, when conversation began to languish, the Chevalier Arpeggio sat down to the piano, and the Countess Delia von Rosenthal sang an air out of the last new opera. The guests were enchanted with her performance. Prince Maximilian had been extremely attentive to the Countess during their excursion; the young actress’s grace and beauty had captivated him, and the charm of her voice completed his subjugation. Passionately fond of music, every note she sang went to his very heart. When she had finished one song, he petitioned for another. The amiable prima donna sang a duet with the aide-de-camp Florival von Reinsberg, and then, being further entreated, a trio, in which Similor—master of the horse, barytone, and Baron von Kockemburg—took a part.

Here our actors were at home, and their success was complete. Deviating from his usual reserve, Prince Maximilian did not disguise his delight; and the imprudent little Baroness Pippinstir declared that, with such a beautiful tenor voice, an aide-de-camp might aspire to anything. A cemetery on a wet day is a cheerful sight, compared to the Baron’s countenance when he heard these words.

Upon the morrow, a hunting-party was the order of the day. In the evening there was a dance. It had been proposed to invite the principal families of the metropolis of Niesenstein, but the Prince and Princess begged that the circle might not be increased.

“We are four ladies,” said the Princess, glancing at the prima donna, the singing chambermaid, and the walking lady, “it is enough for a quadrille.”

There was no lack of gentlemen. There was the Grand Duke, the aide-de-camp, the grand chamberlain, the master of the horse, the gentleman-in-waiting, and Prince Maximilian’s aide-de-camp, Count Darius von Sturmhaube, who appeared greatly smitten by the charms of the widowed Baroness Allenzau.

“I am sorry my court is not more numerous,” said the Grand Duke, “but, within the last three days, I have been compelled to diminish it by one-half.”

“How so?” inquired Prince Maximilian.

“A dozen courtiers,” replied the Grand Duke Leopold, “whom I had loaded with favours, dared conspire against me, in favour of a certain cousin of mine at Vienna. I discovered the plot, and the plotters are now in the dungeons of my good fortress of Zwingenberg.”

“Well done!” cried the Prince; “I like such energy and vigour. And to think that people taxed you with weakness of character! How we princes are deceived and calumniated.”

The Grand Duke cast a grateful glance at Balthasar. That able minister by this time felt himself as much at his ease in his new office as if he had held it all his life; he even began to suspect that the government of a grand-duchy is a much easier matter than the management of a company of actors. Incessantly engrossed by his master’s interests, he manœuvred to bring about the marriage which was to give the Grand Duke happiness, wealth, and safety; but, notwithstanding his skill, notwithstanding the torments with which he had filled the jealous soul of Pippinstir, the ambassador devoted the scanty moments of repose his wife left him to furthering the object of his mission. The alliance with Saxe-Tolpelhausen was pleasing to Prince Maximilian; it offered him various advantages: the extinction of an old law-suit between the two states, the cession of a large extent of territory, and, finally, the commercial treaty, which the perfidious Baron had brought to the court of Niesenstein, with a view of concluding it in favour of the principality of Hanau. Invested with unlimited powers, the diplomatist was ready to insert in the contract almost any conditions Prince Maximilian chose to dictate to him.

It is necessary here to remark that the Elector of Saxe-Tolpelhausen was desperately in love with the Princess Wilhelmina.

It was evident that the Baron would carry the day, if the prime minister did not hit upon some scheme to destroy his credit or force him to retreat. Balthasar, fertile in expedients, was teaching Florival his part in the palace garden, when Prince Maximilian met him, and requested a moment’s private conversation.

“I am at your Highness’s orders,” respectfully replied the minister.

“I will go straight to the point, Count Lipandorf,” the Prince began. “I married my late wife, a princess of Hesse-Darmstadt, from political motives. She has left me three sons. I now intend to marry again; but this time I need not sacrifice myself to state considerations, and I am determined to consult my heart alone.”

“If your Highness does me the honour to consult me, I have merely to say that you are perfectly justified in acting as you propose. After once sacrificing himself to his people’s happiness, a prince has surely a right to think a little of his own.”

“Exactly my opinion! Count, I will tell you a secret. I am in love with Miss von Rosenthal.”

“Miss Delia?”

“Yes, sir; with Miss Delia, Countess of Rosenthal; and, what is more, I will tell you that I know everything.”

“What may it be that your Highness knows?”

“I know who she is.”

“Ha!”

“It was a great secret!”

“And how came your Highness to discover it?”

“The Grand Duke revealed it to me.”

“I might have guessed as much!”

“He alone could do so, and I rejoice that I addressed myself directly to him. At first, when I questioned him concerning the young Countess’s family, he ill concealed his embarrassment: her position struck me as strange; young, beautiful, and alone in the world, without relatives or guardians—all that seemed to me singular, if not suspicious. I trembled, as the possibility of an intrigue flashed upon me; but the Grand Duke, to dissipate my unfounded suspicion, told me all.”

“And what is your Highness’s decision?... After such a revelation——”

“It in no way changes my intentions. I shall marry the lady.”

“Marry her?... But no, your Highness jests.”

“Count Lipandorf, I never jest. What is there, then, so strange in my determination? The Grand Duke’s father was romantic, and of a roving disposition; in the course of his life he contracted several left-handed alliances—Miss von Rosenthal is the issue of one of those unions. I care not for the illegitimacy of her birth; she is of noble blood of a princely race—that is all I require.”

“Yes,” replied Balthasar, who had concealed his surprise and kept his countenance, as became an experienced statesman and consummate comedian—“Yes, I now understand; and I think as you do. Your Highness has the talent of bringing everybody over to your way of thinking.”

“The greatest piece of good fortune,” continued the Prince, “is that the mother remained unknown: she is dead, and there is no trace of family on that side.”

“As your Highness says, it is very fortunate. And doubtless the Grand Duke is informed of your august intentions with respect to the proposed marriage?”

“No; I have as yet said nothing either to him or to the Countess. I reckon upon you, my dear Count, to make my offer, to whose acceptance I trust there will not be the slightest obstacle. I give you the rest of the day to arrange everything. I will write to Miss von Rosenthal; I hope to receive from her own lips the assurance of my happiness, and I will beg her to bring me her answer herself, this evening, in the summer-house in the park. Lover-like, you see—a rendezvous, a mysterious interview! But come, Count Lipandorf, lose no time; a double tie shall bind me to your sovereign. We will sign, at one and the same time, my marriage-contract and his. On that condition alone will I grant him my sister’s hand; otherwise I treat, this very evening, with the envoy from Saxe-Tolpelhausen.”

A quarter of an hour after Prince Maximilian had made this overture, Balthasar and Delia were closeted with the Grand Duke.

What was to be done? The Prince of Hanau was noted for his obstinacy. He would have excellent reasons to oppose to all objections. To confess the deception that had been practised upon him was equivalent to a total and eternal rupture. But, upon the other hand, to leave him in his error, to suffer him to marry an actress! it was a serious matter. If ever he discovered the truth, it would be enough to raise the entire German Confederation against the Grand Duke of Niesenstein.

“What is my prime minister’s opinion?” asked the Grand Duke.

“A prompt retreat. Delia must instantly quit the town; we will devise an explanation of her sudden departure.”

“Yes; and this evening Prince Maximilian will sign his sister’s marriage-contract with the Elector of Saxe-Tolpelhausen. My opinion is, that we have advanced too far to retreat. If the prince ever discovers the truth, he will be the person most interested to conceal it. Besides, Miss Delia is an orphan—she has neither parents nor family. I adopt her—I acknowledge her as my sister.”

“Your Highness’s goodness and condescension——” lisped the pretty prima donna.

“You agree with me, do you not, Miss Delia?” continued the Grand Duke. “You are resolved to seize the good fortune thus offered, and to risk the consequences?”

“Yes, your Highness.”

The ladies will make allowance for Delia’s faithlessness to Florival. How few female heads would not be turned by the prospect of wearing a crown! The heart’s voice is sometimes mute in presence of such brilliant temptations. Besides, was not Florival faithless? Who could say whither he might be led in the course of the tender scenes he acted with the Baroness Pippinstir? Prince Maximilian was neither young nor handsome, but he offered a throne. Not only an actress, but many a high-born dame, might possibly, in such circumstances, forget her love, and think only of her ambition.

To her credit be it said, Delia did not yield without some reluctance to the Grand Duke’s arguments, which Balthasar backed with all his eloquence; but she ended by agreeing to the interview with Prince Maximilian.

“I accept,” she resolutely exclaimed; “I shall be sovereign Princess of Hanau.”

“And I,” cried the Grand Duke, “shall marry Princess Wilhelmina, and, this very evening, poor Pippinstir, disconcerted and defeated, will go back to Saxe-Tolpelhausen.”

“He would have done that in any case,” said Balthasar; “for, this evening, Florival was to have run away with his wife.”

“That is carrying things rather far,” Delia remarked.

“Such a scandal is unnecessary,” added the Grand Duke.

Whilst awaiting the hour of her rendezvous with the Prince, Delia, pensive and agitated, was walking in the park, when she came suddenly upon Florival, who seemed as much discomposed as herself. In spite of her newly-born ideas of grandeur, she felt a pain at her heart. With a forced smile, and in a tone of reproach and irony, she greeted her former lover.

“A pleasant journey to you, Colonel Florival,” she said.

“I may wish you the same,” replied Florival; “for doubtless you will soon set out for the principality of Hanau!”

“Before long, no doubt.”

“You admit it, then?”

“Where is the harm? The wife must follow her husband—a princess must reign in her dominions.”

“Princess! What do you mean? Wife! In what ridiculous promises have they induced you to confide?”

Florival’s offensive doubts were dissipated by the formal explanation which Delia took malicious pleasure in giving him. A touching scene ensued; the lovers, who had both gone astray for a moment, felt their former flame burn all the more ardently for its partial and temporary extinction. Pardon was mutually asked and granted, and ambitious dreams fled before a burst of affection.

“You shall see whether I love you or not,” said Florival to Delia. “Yonder comes Baron Pippinstir; I will take him into the summer-house; a closet is there, where you can hide yourself to hear what passes, and then you shall decide my fate.”

Delia went into the summer-house, and hid herself in the closet. There she overheard the following conversation:—

“What have you to say to me, Colonel?” asked the Baron.

“I wish to speak to your Excellency of an affair that deeply concerns you.”

“I am all attention; but I beg you to be brief; I am expected elsewhere.”

“So am I.”

“I must go to the prime minister, to return him this draught of a commercial treaty, which I cannot accept.”

“And I must go to the rendezvous given me in this letter.”

“The Baroness’s writing!”

“Yes, Baron. Your wife has done me the honour to write to me. We set out together to-night; the Baroness is waiting for me in a post-chaise.”

“And it is to me you dare acknowledge this abominable project?”

“I am less generous than you think. You cannot but be aware that, owing to an irregularity in your marriage-contract, nothing would be easier than to get it annulled. This we will have done; we then obtain a divorce, and I marry the Baroness. You will, of course, have to hand me over her dowry—a million of florins—composing, if I do not mistake, your entire fortune.”

The Baron, more dead than alive, sank into an arm-chair. He was struck speechless.

“We might, perhaps, make some arrangement, Baron,” continued Florival. “I am not particularly bent upon becoming your wife’s second husband.”

“Ah, sir!” cried the ambassador, “you restore me to life!”

“Yes, but I will not restore you the Baroness, except on certain conditions.”

“Speak! What do you demand?”

“First, that treaty of commerce, which you must sign just as Count Lipandorf has drawn it up.”

“I consent to do so.”

“That is not all; you shall take my place at the rendezvous, get into the post-chaise, and run away with your wife; but first you must sit down at this table and write a letter, in due diplomatic form, to Prince Maximilian, informing him that, finding it impossible to accept his stipulations, you are compelled to decline, in your sovereign’s name, the honour of his august alliance.”

“But, Colonel, remember that my instructions——”

“Very well, fulfil them exactly; be a dutiful ambassador and a miserable husband, ruined, without wife and without dowry. You will never have such another chance, Baron! A pretty wife and a million of florins do not fall to a man’s lot twice in his life. But I must take my leave of you. I am keeping the Baroness waiting.”

“I will go to her.... Give me paper, a pen, and be so good as to dictate. I am so agitated——”

The Baron really was in a dreadful fluster. The letter written, and the treaty signed, Florival told his Excellency where he would find the post-chaise.

“One thing more you must promise me,” said the young man, “and that is, that you will behave like a gentleman to your wife, and not scold her over-much. Remember the flaw in the contract. She may find somebody else in whose favour to cancel the document. Suitors will not be wanting.”

“What need of a promise?” replied the poor Baron. “You know very well that my wife does what she likes with me. I shall have to explain my conduct, and ask her pardon.”

Pippinstir departed. Delia left her hiding-place, and held out her hand to Florival.

“You have behaved well,” she said.

“That is more than the Baroness will say.”

“She deserves the lesson. It is your turn to go into the closet and listen; the Prince will be here directly.”

“I hear his footsteps.” And Florival was quickly concealed.

“Charming Countess!” said the prince on entering. “I come to know my fate.”

“What does your Highness mean?” said Delia, pretending not to understand him.

“How can you ask? Has not the Grand Duke spoken to you?”

“No, your Highness.”

“Nor the prime minister?”

“Not a word. When I received your letter, I was on the point of asking you for a private interview. I have a favour—a service—to implore of your Highness.”

“It is granted before it is asked. I place my whole influence and power at your feet, charming Countess.”

“A thousand thanks, illustrious prince. You have already shown me so much kindness, that I venture to ask you to make a communication to my brother, the Grand Duke, which I dare not make myself. I want you to inform him that I have been for three months privately married to Count Reinsberg.”

“Good heavens!” cried Maximilian, falling into the arm-chair in which Pippinstir had recently reclined. On recovering from the shock, the prince rose again to his feet.

“’Tis well, madam,” he said, in a faint voice. “’Tis well!”

And he left the summer-house.

After reading Baron Pippinstir’s letter, Prince Maximilian fell a-thinking. It was not the Grand Duke’s fault if the Countess of Rosenthal did not ascend the throne of Hanau. There was an insurmountable obstacle. Then the precipitate departure of the ambassador of Saxe-Tolpelhausen was an affront which demanded instant vengeance. And the Grand Duke Leopold was a most estimable sovereign, skilful, energetic, and blessed with wise councillors; the Princess Wilhelmina liked him, and thought nothing could compare, for pleasantness, with his lively court, where all the men were amiable, and all the women charming. These various motives duly weighed, the Prince made up his mind, and next day was signed the marriage-contract of the Grand Duke of Niesenstein and the Princess Wilhelmina of Hanau.

Three days later the marriage itself was celebrated.

The play was played out.

The actors had performed their parts with wit, intelligence, and a noble disinterestedness. They took their leave of the Grand Duke, leaving him with a rich and pretty wife, a powerful brother-in-law, a serviceable alliance, and a commercial treaty which could not fail to replenish his treasury.

Embassies, special missions, banishment, were alleged to the Grand Duchess as the causes of their departure. Then an amnesty was published on the occasion of the marriage; the gates of the fortress of Zwingenberg opened, and the former courtiers resumed their respective posts.

The reviving fortunes of the Grand Duke were a sure guarantee of their fidelity.