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Chapter 10 THE RIGHT TO LIVE AND LOVE

  • Dinner was over in the dull old dining-room. The Archduchess Annunciat_ighted a cigarette, and glanced across the table at Hedwig.
  • Hedwig had been very silent during the meal. She had replied civilly whe_poken to, but that was all. Her mother, who had caught the Countess's tric_f narrowing her eyes, inspected her from under lowered lids.
  • "Well?" she said. "Are you still sulky?"
  • "I? Not at all, mother." Her head went up, and she confronted her mothe_quarely.
  • "I should like to inquire, if I may," observed the Archduchess, "just how yo_ave spent the day until the little divertissement on which I stumbled. Thi_orning, for instance?"
  • Hedwig shrugged her shoulders, but her color rose. It came in a soft wave ove_er neck and mounted higher and higher. "Very quietly, mother," she said.
  • "Naturally. It is always quiet here. But how?"
  • "I rode."
  • "Where?"
  • "At the riding-school, with Otto."
  • "Only with Otto?"
  • "Captain Larisch was there."
  • "Of course! Then you have practically spent the day with him!"
  • "I have spent most of the day with Otto."
  • "This devotion to Otto—it is new, I think. You were eager to get out of th_ursery. Now, it appears, you must fly back to schoolroom teas and othe_bsurdities. I should like to know why."
  • "I think Otto is lonely, mother."
  • Hilda took advantage of her mother's preoccupation to select another peach.
  • She was permitted only one, being of the age when fruit caused her, colloquially speaking, to "break out." She was only faintly interested in th_onversation. She dreaded these family meals, with her mother's sharp voic_nd the Countess Loschek's almost too soft one. But now a restraine_rritability in the tones of the Archduchess made her glance up. Th_rchduchess was in one of her sudden moods of irritation. Hedwig's remar_bout Otto's loneliness, the second that day, struck home. In her anger sh_orgot her refusal to the Chancellor.
  • "I have something to say that will put an end to this sentimental nonsense o_ours, Hedwig. I should forbid your seeing this boy, this young Larisch, if _elt it necessary. I do not. You would probably see him anyhow, for tha_atter. Which, as I observed this afternoon, also reminds me unpleasantly o_our father." She rose, and threw her bolt out of a clear sky. She had had, a_ matter of fact, no previous intention of launching any bolt. It was wholly _esult of irritation. "It is unnecessary to remind you not to make a fool o_ourself. But it may not be out of place to say that your grandfather ha_ertain plans for you that will take your mind away from this—this silly boy, soon enough."
  • Hedwig had risen, and was standing, very white, with her hands on the table.
  • "What plans, mother?"
  • "He will tell you."
  • "Not—I am not to be married?"
  • The Archduchess Annunciata was not all hard. She could never forgive he_hildren their father. They reminded her daily of a part of her life that sh_ould have put behind her. But they were her children, and Hedwig was all tha_he was not, gentle and round and young. Suddenly something almost like regre_tirred in her.
  • "Don't look like that, child," she said. "It is not settled. And, after all, one marriage or another what difference does it make! Men are men. If one doe_ot care, it makes the things they do unimportant."
  • "But surely," Hedwig gasped, "surely I shall be consulted?"
  • Annunciata shook her head. They had all risen and Hilda was standing, th_each forgotten, her mouth a little open. As for Olga Loschek, she was ver_till, but her eyes burned. The Archduchess remembered her presence no mor_han that of the flowers on the table.
  • "Mother, you cannot look back, and—and remember your own life, and allow me t_e wretched. You cannot!"
  • Hilda picked up her peach. It was all very exciting, but Hedwig was bein_ather silly. Besides, why was she so distracted when she did not know who th_an was? It might be some quite handsome person. For Hilda was also at the ag_hen men were handsome or not handsome, and nothing else.
  • Unexpectedly Hedwig began to cry. This Hilda considered going much too far, and bad taste into the bargain. She slipped the peach into the waist of he_rock.
  • The Archduchess hated tears, and her softer moments were only moments. "Dr_our eyes, and don't be silly," she said coldly. "You have always known tha_omething of the sort was inevitable."
  • She moved toward the door. The two princesses and her lady in waiting remaine_till until she had left the table. Then they fell in behind her, and th_ittle procession moved to the stuffy, boudoir, for coffee. But Hilda slippe_er arm around her sister's waist, and the touch comforted Hedwig.
  • "He may be very nice," Hilda volunteered cautiously. "Perhaps it is Karl. I a_uite mad about Karl, myself."
  • Hedwig, however, was beyond listening. She went slowly to a window, and stoo_azing out. Looming against the sky-line, in the very center of the Place, wa_he heroic figure of her dead grandmother. She fell to wondering about thes_oyal women who had preceded her. Her mother, frankly unhappy in her marriage, permanently embittered; her grandmother. Hedwig had never seen the King young.
  • She could not picture him as a lover. To her he was a fine and lonely figure.
  • But romantic? Had he ever been romantic?
  • He had made her mother's marriage, and had lived to regret it. He would mak_ers. But what about the time when he himself had taken a wife? Hedwig gaze_t the statue. Had she too come with unwilling arms? And if she had, was i_rue that after all, in a year or a lifetime, it made no difference.
  • She slipped out on to the balcony and closed the curtains behind her. As he_yes grew accustomed to the darkness she saw that there was some one below, under the trees. Her heart beat rapidly. In a moment she was certain. It wa_ikky down there, Nikky, gazing up at her as a child may look at a star. Wit_ quick gesture Hedwig drew the curtain back. A thin ray of light fell on her, on her slim bare arms, on her light draperies, on her young face. He ha_anted to see her, and he should see her. Then she dropped the curtain, an_wisted her hands together lest, in spite of her, they reach out toward him.
  • Did she fancy it, or did the figure salute her? Then came the quick ring o_eels on the old stone pavement. She knew his footsteps, even as she kne_very vibrant, eager inflection of his voice. He went away, across the Square, like one who, having bent his knee to a saint, turns back to the business o_he world.
  • In the boudoir the Archduchess had picked up some knitting to soothe he_angled nerves. "You may play now, Hilda," she said.
  • Into Hilda's care-free young life came two bad hours each day. One was th_inner hour, when she ate under her mother's pitiless eyes. The other was th_our after dinner, when, alone in the white drawing-room beyond the boudoir, with the sliding doors open, she sat at the grand piano, which was white an_old, like the room, and as cold, and played to her mother's pitiless ears.
  • She went slowly into the drawing-room. Empty, it was a dreary place. The heav_handeliers of gold and cut glass were unlighted. The crimson and gilt chair_ere covered with white linen. Only the piano, a gleaming oasis in a desert o_olished floor, was lighted, and that by two tall candles in gilt candlestick_hat reached from the floor. Hilda, going reluctantly to her post, was th_nly bit of life and color in the room.
  • At last Annunciata dozed, and Hilda played softly. Played now, not for he_other, but for herself. And as she played she dreamed: of Hedwig's wedding, of her own debut, of Karl, who had fed her romantic heart by treating her lik_ woman grown.
  • The Countess's opportunity had come. She put down the dreary embroidery wit_hich she filled the drearier evenings, and moved to the window. She walke_uietly, like a cat.
  • Her first words to Hedwig were those of Peter Niburg as he linked arms wit_is enemy and started down the street. "A fine night, Highness," she said.
  • Hedwig raised her eyes to the stars. "It is very lovely."
  • "A night to spend out-of-doors, instead of being shut up—" She finished her, sentence with a shrug of the shoulders.
  • Hedwig was not fond of the Countess. She did not know why. The truth being, o_ourse, that between them lay the barrier of her own innocence. Hedwig coul_ot have put this into words, would not, indeed, if she could. But when th_ountess's arm touched hers, she drew aside.
  • "To-night," said the lady in waiting dreamily, "I should like to be in _otor, speeding over mountain roads. I come from the mountains, you know. An_ miss them."
  • Hedwig said nothing; she wished to be alone with her trouble.
  • "In my home, at this time of the year," the Countess went on, still softly,
  • "they are driving the cattle up into the mountains for the summer. At nigh_ne hears them going—a bell far off, up the mountainside, and sometimes on_ees the light of a lantern."
  • Hedwig moved, a little impatiently, but as the Countess went on, she listened.
  • After all, Nikky, too, came from the mountains. She saw it all—the great herd_oving with deliberate eagerness already sniffing the green slopes above, an_he star of the distant lantern. She could even hear the thin note of th_ell. And because she was sorry for the Countess, who was homesick, an_erhaps because just then she had to speak to some one, she turned to her a_ast with the thing that filled her mind.
  • "This marriage," she said bitterly. "Is it talked about? Am I the only one i_he palace who has not known about it?"
  • "No, Highness, I had heard nothing."
  • "But you knew about it?"
  • "Only what I heard to-night. Of course, there are always rumors."
  • "As to the other, the matter my mother referred to," Hedwig held her head ver_igh, "I—she was unjust. Am I never to have any friends?"
  • The Countess turned and, separating the curtains, surveyed the room within.
  • Annunciata was asleep, and beyond, Hilda was playing dreamily, and ver_oftly, as behooves one whose bedtime is long past. When the Countess droppe_he curtain, she turned abruptly to Hedwig.
  • "Friends, Highness? One may have friends, of course. It is not friendship the_ear."
  • "What then?"
  • "A lover," said the Countess softly. "It is impossible to see Captain Larisc_n your presence, and not realize—"
  • "Go on."
  • "And not realize, Highness, that he is in love with you."
  • "How silly!" said the Princess Hedwig, with glowing eyes.
  • "But Highness!" implored the Countess. "If only you would use a littl_aution. Open defiance is its own defeat."
  • "I am not ashamed of what I do," said Hedwig hotly.
  • "Ashamed! Of course not. But things that are harmless in others, in you_osition—you are young. You should have friends, gayety. I am," she smile_rimly in the darkness, "not so old myself but that I can understand."
  • "Who told my mother that I was having tea with—with Prince Otto?"
  • "These things get about. Where there is no gossip, there are plenty to inven_t. And—pardon, Highness—frankness, openness, are not always understood."
  • Hedwig stood still. The old city was preparing for sleep. In the Place a fe_overs loitered, standing close, and the faint tinkling of a bell told of th_lessed Sacrament being carried through the streets to some bedside of th_ying. Soon the priest came into view, walking rapidly, with his skirt_lapping around his legs. Before him marched a boy, ringing a bell an_arrying a lighted lamp. The priest bent his steps through the Place, and th_overs kneeled as he passed by. The Princess Hedwig bowed her head.
  • It seemed to her, all at once, that the world was full of wretchedness an_eath, and of separation, which might be worse than death. The lamp, passin_ehind trees, shone out fitfully. The bell tinkled—a thin, silvery sound tha_ade her heart ache.
  • "I wish I could help you, Highness," said the Countess. "I should like to se_ou happy. But happiness does not come of itself. We must fight for it."
  • "Fight? What chance have I to fight?" Hedwig asked scornfully.
  • "One thing, of course, I could do," pursued the Countess. "On those days whe_ou wish to have tea with—His Royal Highness, I could arrange, perhaps, to le_ou know if any member of the family intended going to his apartments."
  • It was a moment before Hedwig comprehended. Then she turned to her haughtily.
  • "When I wish to have tea with my cousin," she said coldly, "I shall do i_penly, Countess."
  • She left the balcony abruptly, abandoning the Countess to solitary fury, th_reater because triumph had seemed so near. Alone, she went red and white, bi_er lips, behaved according to all the time-honored traditions. And eve_wore—in a polite, lady-in-waiting fashion, to be sure—to get even.
  • Royalties, as she knew well, were difficult to manage. They would go alon_erfectly well, and act like human beings, and rage and fuss and grieve, an_ven weep. And then, quite unexpectedly, the royal streak would show. Bu_oyalties in love were rather rare in her experience. Love was, generall_peaking, not a royal attribute. Apparently it required a new set of rules.
  • Altogether, the Countess Loschek worked herself to quite as great a fury as i_er motives had been purely altruistic, and not both selfish and wicked.
  • That night, while the Prince Ferdinand William Otto hugged the woolen dog i_is sleep; while the Duchess Hilda, in front of her dressing-table, was havin_er hair brushed; while Nikky roamed the streets and saw nothing but th_ision of a girl on a balcony, a girl who was lost to him, although she ha_ever been anything else, Hedwig on her knees at the prie-dieu in he_ressing-room followed the example of the Chancellor, who, too, had fel_imself in a tight corner, as one may say, and was growing tired of puttin_is trust in princes. So Hedwig prayed for many things: for the softening o_ard hearts; for Nikky's love; and, perhaps a trifle tardily, for the welfar_nd recovery of her grandfather, the King. But mostly she prayed fo_appiness, for a bit of light and warmth in her gray days—to be allowed t_ive and love.