Robert Louis Stevenson - Prince Otto (1885)
This novel was the forerunner of The Prisoner of Zenda school of novels of political adventure in imaginary kingdoms. It was dramatized soon after its publication, and the leading rôle was a favorite in the repertoire of the late Richard Mansfield up to the time of his death.
ONCE on a time the map of Europe made space for the state of Grunewald, of which little principality Prince Otto was the unruling ruler.
Fonder of the hunt than of princely duties, he passed much time away from his young wife, the Princess Seraphina, who report said was much too fond of one Baron Gondremark, an adventurer from East Prussia.
At the close of a spring day Otto had contrived to elude his attendants, with whom he had been hunting, and to pass over the boundaries of Grunewald into the neigh-boring principality of Gerolstein, which nestled in the valley. A few moments passed and he found himself knocking at the door of a farmhouse and was shortly admitted by a very old man.
After the Prince's wants and those of his mare had been fully attended to, with rough but sincere hospitality, by the good Killian Gottesheim, who did not recognize his royal guest, the talk fell on politics, and for the first time in his butterfly existence Otto heard men's real opinion concerning him and his wife and the affairs of state and learned that his throne was trembling on the brink of a revolution, the old man's helper, Fritz, being in sympathy with Baron Gondremark, who plotted to overthrow Otto and be ruler himself.
Prince Otto, debonair, well-wishing to all men, and good at heart if hitherto irresponsible, heard all with burning ears and vainly attempted to combat in argument the dictums of his rustic host and the boorish Fritz, and was nothing loath to seek the rustic bed the farmer offered him, where he tossed, unable to sleep even in that balsamic atmosphere, with a brook singing merrily near by and the calmness of the rural night enfolding him.
Very early in the morning he was up and out and fell in with Ottilia, Gottesheim's daughter, who, having suspected that he was of the royal blood, had shrewdly examined his stirrups and finding his crown upon them sought him out to beg his pardon for the frank remarks that had been made the night before.
Ottilia found it hard to take the Prince seriously, he seemed so boyish, so devoid of princely air; and several times she pulled herself up short for some familiarity of speech.
Her talk somewhat restored his equanimity, and when on rejoining her father he learned that the old man was dreading the sale of the farm and his consequent ejection after a lifetime spent on it, Prince Otto gave him to understand that he had "a friend" who would buy it and retain his services thereupon.
Otto the man left the farm, having won golden opinions from Killian and his daughter, although Fritz, who was in love with Ottilia and of a jealous disposition, thought him overly friendly in his attitude toward the charming girl.
The day was still young when Prince Otto took up his way toward home, and stopping at an inn in the course of his journey he fell in with a young student who interested him with his views concerning principalities in general and that of Grünewald in particular. According to this young man, a prince should be lively, courtly, not deficient in understanding, receptive, accommodating, seductive.
"In short, such a man as yourself," he concluded.
Otto replied that he must take the liberty of doubting his own ability to fill the rôle of prince; but the young stranger insisted that, with an able counselor—" like Herr Doctor Hohenstockwitz, the cousin of Prince Otto"—he would do very well. He wondered at his companion's merriment at this remark.
In academic, philosophic talk on rulers the hours fled away in the little inn, and when night fell Otto was sorry to leave his new acquaintance; but feeling that he must press on he took advantage of the convoy of a company of wood-merchants who were going to Mittwalden and who passed a part of their time in singing a ribald song that concerned the Princess of Grünewald and Baron Gondremark.
Coming to a turning of the ways, Prince Otto was glad to escape the musical insult, and soon found himself in his castle, having gained his own rooms by a secret passage. But after he had thrown himself on his bed in fancy he could still hear the rousing chorus of the woodmen as they pursued their course along the highway.
Early the next morning Herr Doctor Hohenstockwitz, the librarian, was visited by Otto, who, advancing the idea that perhaps he had idled long enough and would better begin to govern himself and his people, was laughed at by his cousin, who told him that he liked him better in his native state, assuring him that the wisdom of a ruler would not become his youthful years.
"But the manliness of a husband!" said Otto. "Look at me—a cuckold, leaving to Gondremark to make what he will of the woman I married in love."
Gotthold reminded him that as an old celibate he could not personally advise him in his matrimonial affairs.
"No, but all this must stop. I will be a husband. I will be ruler."
At this point their conversation was interrupted by the Chancellor, who, surprised at seeing Otto abroad so early, would have withdrawn with the papers he had come to Gotthold to get. But Otto insisted on talking with him, in order to gain some knowledge of the events of the past few days while he had been absent.
The Chancellor seemed ill at ease; he was evidently hiding something, but at last Otto forced him to say that an English traveler, Sir John Crabtree, had been arrested the evening before.
"What! my guest arrested? On what pretense?"
The Chancellor stammered and would have evaded the question, but Otto insisted on an explanation; at last he learned that the old man held certain documents belonging to Sir John Crab-tree, which documents turned out to be Memoirs of a Visit to the Various Courts of Europe.
"Ha! ha!" laughed the Prince; "this should make interesting reading." And with a "By your leave" to his conscience, he proceeded to read the chapter that dealt with Crabtree's visit to Grünewald.
He found therein at greater length much the same story that he had gathered from the woodsmen's song and the talk of his friends of the day before; and his anger against Sir John was tremendously kindled.
"A pestilent and foul imagination and a cursed gift at exaggeration! Let me to him."
Prince Otto found Sir John at his toilet. The Englishman was imperturbable, and to Otto's question as to how he could eat his bread and make so scurvy a return for it Sir John replied that he felt honored in that Prince Otto had read his manuscript; that he should be pleased to say that the Prince, so far from being idle, took upon himself the duties of the police; that the burlesque incident of his arrest would make lightsome reading; and that as to the rest he had already communicated with his Ambassador at Vienna, and whether Otto willed it or no he should be at liberty in a few days.
"And now, if my turnkey will allow me the privileges of a prisoner, I will finish my toilet after you have withdrawn."
Otto, assuming a princely air, which nevertheless he felt was taken humorously by Sir John, affixed a seal to a passport; and having given Sir John his liberty he demanded the privilege of fighting a duel with him for having lied about his wife, the Princess Seraphina.
Sir John reminded him that he could not fight with a reigning prince, nor must his Highness expect grapes from a thistle; he said that he had but set down a cynical account of what he believed to be truth; that, compared to other European courts, the court of Grünewald was innocence itself; he concluded by saying that he realized he had been greatly mistaken in his conception of the character of Prince Otto, who he now perceived was a sovereign endowed with all manly virtues; and he begged for the honor of kissing the Prince's hand.
"But," said Sir John, at their amicable parting, "remember that to sprint is one thing, to run a long race is quite another; and you are what you were made."
Comforted by the morning's incidents, Otto bent his steps toward the Princess's anteroom, and once among his courtiers he was quite in his element, going from group to group to utter graceful witticisms and gallant nothings. Here he knew he was popular, whatever his subjects at large might think of him.
Master and mistress, respectively, of verbal fencing, he and the Countess von Rosen—whose heart was said to belong to the all-conquering Baron Gondremark and who dwelt in a rustic cottage that he had given her conversed with an animation that had behind it something of friendly feeling. But she, like all the others, soon verged on the unpleasant topic of the Princess Seraphina's supposed relations with Gondremark; even now the two were closeted in the Princess's apartments.
"And now," she concluded, "may I dismiss my sovereign? My bear is jealous!"
So the exigéant Gondremark was jealous! Ah! Somehow Otto never had realized before how lovely Madame von Rosen was!
Meanwhile in the Princess's apartments Gondremark and Seraphina were plotting against the Prince, not without some misgivings on the part of the Princess.
"Suppose the people, the abominable people, rebel? We should be the laughing-stock of Europe if I lost my throne while plotting the invasion of Gerolstein."
To this Gondremark made reply that with Gerolstein over-come the taxes in Grünewald would be remitted and a happy family would be the inevitable result.
"But let us not keep Otto waiting without," said he, and forthwith departed himself.
When Otto was admitted to his wife's boudoir he attempted to. bring her to her senses and to recall the time of their love-making; but she was not in a sympathetic mood.
"What would you be at?" she said, her voice hardening. "I would be at this: Seraphina, I am your husband after all, and I love you."
Warming as he spoke, he reminded her that he had left her free; that he had gone his own way and had not irked her with his society; but that she should be careful of her good name and see to it that scandal was not bred.
"Scandal! And about what?"
"You are too much with Gondremark, and your intimacy is the ground of scandal."
"It is you who bring me first news of it my husband! Is this the return I get for governing your kingdom for you in your absence? Gondremark, indeed!"
"Then you refuse to be more circumspect?"
"Absolutely, After this interview I shall summon Herr Gondremark to visit me."
"I will ask you a last favor then."
And he led her to her bedroom, where he shot the bolt on the outside in token of her freedom.
"I have been much amused," laughed the Princess; and Otto knew that so far from appearing heroic he had merely made himself ridiculous in the eyes of his wife.
While pacing his own apartment in mingled anger and abasement, he received a hurriedly penciled scratch from Gott-hold :
"The council is privately summoned at once.—G. v. H.
Ah! So he was feared, else they would not call a council without him. Well, they should be disappointed.
It was a council of tools that had assembled—with the exception of Gotthold, whose presence had not been looked for. A secretary brought a paper, and it would have been held as read and so signed by Seraphina had not Gotthold asked to have it read to him. It proved to be a declaration of war.
Gotthold immediately insisted that they send for the Prince, and while the consequent confusion was at its height Prince Otto came in. He made his visit to the council the occasion for several unwonted displays of authority. His request for four thou-sand crowns was denied on the ground that the exchequer was practically empty, many munitions of war having been purchased since the last accounting.
"One might think that we were going to war," said Otto. "We are," said Seraphina.
It then came about that a flimsy pretext was to be used to pick a quarrel with Gerolstein, after which war would be declared.
"It appears that I came just in time," said the Prince; and, asking the Chancellor to take his pen, he made known to the Grand Ducal Court of Gerolstein that the council were entirely at one with it.
Gondremark begged leave to say that the wish for war was popular, and that if the people were balked of it in one way they might have it in another.
In the opinion of the Prince, some honorable means of safety must be devised.
"Then sign the despatch," said Seraphina.
"I said honorable," Otto replied. "Why should Gerolstein bleed for Grunewald's misdoings? I will try to evolve some plan that shall get us out of our difficulty with credit; and should I fail I shall abdicate."
At this Seraphina flew into a rage and upbraided the idler for waiting until the eleventh hour before doing anything and then talking of abdication. Forgetting herself, she poured out her contempt for his lack of statesmanship.
" Gentlemen, the council is dissolved," said the Prince calmly.
Within an hour Gondremark and Seraphina were once more in consultation. He pointed out to her that she was born to command, he to obey. He told her that he had long admired her masculine grasp of statecraft, and suggested that now, with the fall of Gerolstein's capital, the throne of her empire might be founded.
"What, is not all ruined?"
"By no means."
By dexterous means he prepared her mind to receive and accept the idea of the enforced abdication of Prince Otto. "Let him go hunting again—and stay there!"
The significance of this remark did not immediately dawn on her.
"But it is a crime," said she.
"He will not be harmed. He will be shut up in the Felsenberg."
While she hesitated a messenger brought a note from Otto to Gondremark:
"At the first council the Princess's right of signature is to be withdrawn."
"Enough," said she, and signified her intention of signing the order for Otto's removal to the Felsenberg.
" Good ! Tomorrow at midnight he shall leave," said the Baron.
Then in her own hand (at the Baron's suggestion) she wrote the order for Otto's removal and included in it his cousin Gott-hold.
Unable to obtain money from the exchequer for the farm, Otto conceived the idea of breaking into the treasury and called on Madame von Rosen to aid him.
She consented at once when she learned his reasons for wishing the money and the inadequate reasons the council had given for refusing him the sum. As he said, it would be "fun," although not a dignified act. But when at the place appointed he met the lady he found that she had brought him money of her own—all that she could carry in a bag—and placed the full sum at his disposal. He was touched at this evidence of her loyalty. All she asked in return was—well, she would give something instead. She would give him leave to kiss her!
All was still supposed to be in jest, and yet when their lips met Otto was alarmed at the electric shock it gave him. Suddenly the Countess said: "As for your wife—"
But Otto stopped her, saying that he would hear naught against Seraphina. "For," said he, " after all, I love her."
"And that is the reason why I mentioned her. I am not dying of love for you. What I have done was done in a friendly way not for love. And now let me tell you another thing. Your wife is innocent of any offense against your honor. Good night!"
The next day at noon Otto met Killian, and before an attorney he signed the papers that transferred the farm to him, and great was old Killian's excitement when he beheld the signature and knew Otto for what he was. He called Heaven to witness that never in his long life had he met so generous a gentleman.
The Prince returned to the castle not ill pleased with him-self; but half an hour's talk with his blunt cousin served to lessen his conceit. In Gotthold's opinion, Seraphina was the better man of the two and certainly the more capable of ruling.
On the following day Gondremark sent for his mistress, Madame von Rosen, to tell her a bit of news—to inform her that he would soon be so situated that he could do without the help of the Princess Seraphina. One more move, and he would be at the head of the state. Then he told her that Otto was to be taken to the Felsenberg—and by the Princess's own orders.
"I will not believe it," said the Countess, and she asked to see the order. When the document was in her hands she accused Gondremark of being in love with Seraphina, which brought from him the entirely honest declaration that he loved the Countess next after himself.
"Very well, then. I will join your plot."
" Give me back the paper."
No, I shall need it. His valets are devoted to him. It is I who must get him out of the palace. He is devoted to me. Let Colonel Gordon be on hand with a carriage, and the rest will be easy. But I need this paper in order to show my authority to Gordon."
And she was gone.
To seek out Otto and show him the paper was to have been expected of this woman, to whom honor and morality meant nothing. But when, by sending word that it was a matter of life and death, she had obtained an audience, and had told him of the conspiracy, he refused to do anything to escape from the net.
"No, I have too often been proved to be a bundle of weaknesses. I need a change. It is all a farce. I will go."
"But if your wife has conspired against your liberty she may conspire against your honor also."
"Even so. She shall be free. I have been found wanting." "But reflect! I am the gainer by this, by Gondremark's victory."
At this Otto was reminded to give to her the title-deeds to the farm.
"They will be of no use to me. Go, with my gratitude."
"Colonel Gordon," said the Prince, when that Scotchman came for him according to orders; "now is come that happy time of life when I have orders to receive but none to give."
And he entered the carriage without More ado.
"A philosopher!" quoth the Colonel.
The Prince gone, the Countess sought an audience with the Princess, looking forward to it with gusto. As an emissary of the Baron she was admitted.
Once in the presence of the Princess she used all her eloquence to describe the grief of the Prince on hearing of his wife's order. "I left poor, pretty Prince Charming crying out his eyes for a wooden doll," she said.
The Princess made no reply. "I offered him his liberty," the Countess continued, "showing him your order, and he refused it, saying that he would go if it pleased you. He could have changed the parts, but he went to prison in your place,"
The Princess was not unmoved by this and signified that what she had done had been for "reasons of state."
"What is the state compared to a man's love?"
"Madame, I have learned in a hard school that my own feelings must everywhere come last."
The Countess looked at her in amusement. "Is it possible that you do not know of the intrigue in which you move? See! Read this letter, which Gondremark wrote me yesterday and which I have not yet opened."
The Princess read, with a sickening shock, these words:
" Come at once. Seraphina has signed the paper sending her husband to prison. This puts the minx in my power and she will now dance to my piping or I'll know why. Come!—HEINRICH."
"I will give you the order for his release at once," said the Princess, all aghast at the revelation of these words; "but it must not be used until I have seen the Baron."
"I promise. And Madame, the Prince left a letter for you that you should read."
"I thank you. And now please leave me."
The self-sacrifice in the letter that Otto had left so moved his wife that she saw herself in a true light for the first time. She had been cruel and false. She would be the laughing-stock of Europe. But no! She snatched a dagger, and with a word-less prayer she pressed it to her bosom; yet with the prick her desire to take her own life passed away and new courage came instead.
Soon the Baron came, and when she asked him to look into his heart and tell her the true state of his feelings, he misread her words and poured forth a sickening torrent of passionate protestations until the Princess cut him short with a reference to the Countess that showed him how foolish had been his action. Then anger filled her heart and taking the same dagger she plunged it into his breast, and he fell heavily to the floor just as a mob beset the palace. The revolution had begun, and Seraphina, leaving the body where it had fallen, fled for her life.
All night she wandered in the woods while the palace burned; and in the morning she came on Sir John, who, taking her to his chaise which stood in the road, gave her wine to drink and some-thing to eat and also a picture of her husband as he had seen him last, which caused her to ask him whether he believed in the scandals he had heard. On his vehemently denying such a be-lief she told him that she was as true a wife as ever lived. Sir John then drew for her such a picture of her selfishness as caused her to demand that he let her out of the carriage as she desired to continue her journey to the Felsenberg on foot.
It was a merry party that had ridden to the Felsenberg when Prince Otto and Colonel Gordon and Gotthold set out, for the Colonel had provided wine, and he was a man of parts, with an engaging philosophy that struck a responsive chord in the breast of the royal prisoner.
At last the Felsenberg came into view against the starry sky. "See, Gotthold, our destination."
Gotthold, who had been pondering, awoke from his trance. "If there is danger, why did you come of your own free will?
You should be there to help her in case of an insurrection." Prince Otto's cheeks paled.
Next morning a beautiful lady in a riding-habit drew rein at the gate of the Felsenberg. She had passed the night in her own bower and knew nothing of the insurrection.
The Colonel hoped that she had not come after his prisoners, for they were enjoying themselves too much. "Come and join us," he added.
She laughed. "I have come to see the Prince."
"Ah, Madame," said Otto, when the Countess had fallen on his neck, full of sympathy for his position; "what would I not give if I had resisted. Oh, that I had my freedom." "And what would you give?" she asked archly.
"I have nothing to give; I can only plead."
When the Countess had enjoyed the situation long enough she tore her dress open and threw the order on the floor.
"There! I am at your mercy," said she; "I forced it from her."
In a moment Otto was calling down blessings on his wife.
The Colonel was forced to admit that the order was genuine; and in a few minutes the Prince, having bade a gracious farewell to his hospitable jailer, set off with the Countess.
On the way they met Sir John, who told them of the revolution; of the declaration of a republic; the burning of the palace; the flight of the Princess and the stabbing of Gondremark.
In an instant the Countess was off at a mad gallop.
"Who would have thought she cared for him?" said Sir John.
"And my wife? What of her?"
"Down the road."
A moment later the Prince dashed off in search of his wife.
When Seraphina saw her husband approaching she ran to him with a little cry and began to abase herself, in which she was followed by Otto, who told her that it was his duty to be beside her, whether she loved him or not. Now they were mere man and woman, poor as Job, and could begin life anew.
"I said we were as poor as Job, but I have a little house in the valley below that is all mine own. Thither I will conduct you; and if the attentions of a husband are distasteful I will be your brother. You used to say you liked me in every capacity save those of prince and of husband. Let us begin life again."
Down the hill they walked; then at last he ventured to look into her face, and saw shining in her eyes the light of love.
"Seraphina?" The single word asked all.
"Here in this glade is where we meet for the first time," said she. "The leaves are coming out on the young trees and the flowers are beginning to blossom."
And there was a deep thrill in her speech.
( Originally Published Early 1900's )
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