The count pressed his lips convulsively together and looked angrily upon the princess, but he did not raise his hand to take the flowers--did not appear to see that she held them toward him.
"Well, sir," said the Princess Wilhelmina, "you do not take the flowers?"
"No," said he, passionately, "I will not take them." The princess looked anxiously around; she feared some one might have heard this stormy "No." She soon convinced herself that there was no listener nearer than her maid of honor; Fraulein Marshal was still near the Princess Amelia, and she was somewhat isolated by etiquette; she saw, therefore, that she dared carry on this conversation.
"Why will you not take my flowers?" she said, proudly.
The count drew nearer. "I will tell you, princess," said he--"I will tell you, if this passionate pain now burning in my breast does not slay me. I will not take your flowers, because I will not be a messenger of love between you and the prince; because I cannot accept the shame and degradation which such an office would lay upon me. Princess you have forgotten, but I remember there was a wondrous time in which I, and not the prince, was favored with a like precious gift. At that time you allowed me to hope that this glowing, inextinguishable feeling which filled my heart, my soul, found an echo in your breast; that at least you would not condemn me to die unheard, misunderstood."
"I knew not at that time that my husband loved me," murmured the princess; "I thought I was free and justified in giving that heart which no one claimed to whom I would."
"You had no sooner learned that the prince loved you than you turned from me, proud and cold," said the count, bitterly; "relentlessly, without mercy, without pity, you trampled my heart under your feet, and not a glance, not a word showed me that you had any remembrance of the past. I will tell you what I suffered. You have a cold heart, it will make you happy to hear of any anguish. I loved you so madly I almost hated you; in the madness of my passion I cursed you. I thanked God for the war, which forced me to that for which I had never found the moral strength to leave you. Yes, I was grateful when the war called me to the field--I hoped to die. I did not wish to dishonor my name by suicide. I was recklessly brave, because I despised life--I rushed madly into the ranks of the enemy, seeking death at their hands, but God's blessed minister disdained me even as you had done. I was borne alive from the battle-field and brought to Berlin to be nursed and kindly cared for. No one knew that here I received daily new and bitter wounds. You were always cruel, cruel even to the last moment; you saw my sufferings, but you were inexorable. Oh, princess, it would have been better to refuse me entrance, to banish me from your presence, than to make my heart torpid under the influence of your cold glance, your polished speech, which ever allured me and yet kept me at a distance. You have played a cruel game with me, princess you mock me to the last. Shall I be your messenger to the prince? You know well that I would give my heart's blood for one of those sweet flowers, and you send them by me to another. My humility, my subjection is at an end; you have sinned against me as a woman, and I have therefore the right to accuse you as a man. I will not take these flowers! I will not give them to the prince! And now I have finished--I beg you to dismiss me."
The princess had listened tremblingly; her face became ever paler-- completely exhausted, she leaned against the wall.