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|The Europeans||Henry James|
|Page 6 of 8||
"They want him to make a political marriage. It is his brother's idea. His brother is very clever."
"They must be a precious pair!" cried Robert Acton.
The Baroness gave a little philosophic shrug. "Que voulez-vous? They are princes. They think they are treating me very well. Silberstadt is a perfectly despotic little state, and the Reigning Prince may annul the marriage by a stroke of his pen. But he has promised me, nevertheless, not to do so without my formal consent."
"And this you have refused?"
"Hitherto. It is an indignity, and I have wished at least to make it difficult for them. But I have a little document in my writing-desk which I have only to sign and send back to the Prince."
"Then it will be all over?"
The Baroness lifted her hand, and dropped it again. "Of course I shall keep my title; at least, I shall be at liberty to keep it if I choose. And I suppose I shall keep it. One must have a name. And I shall keep my pension. It is very small--it is wretchedly small; but it is what I live on."
"And you have only to sign that paper?" Acton asked.
The Baroness looked at him a moment. "Do you urge it?"
He got up slowly, and stood with his hands in his pockets. "What do you gain by not doing it?"
"I am supposed to gain this advantage--that if I delay, or temporize, the Prince may come back to me, may make a stand against his brother. He is very fond of me, and his brother has pushed him only little by little."
"If he were to come back to you," said Acton, "would you-- would you take him back?"
The Baroness met his eyes; she colored just a little. Then she rose. "I should have the satisfaction of saying, 'Now it is my turn. I break with your serene highness!' "
They began to walk toward the carriage. "Well," said Robert Acton, "it 's a curious story! How did you make his acquaintance?"
"I was staying with an old lady--an old Countess--in Dresden. She had been a friend of my father's. My father was dead; I was very much alone. My brother was wandering about the world in a theatrical troupe."
"Your brother ought to have stayed with you," Acton observed, "and kept you from putting your trust in princes."
The Baroness was silent a moment, and then, "He did what he could," she said. "He sent me money. The old Countess encouraged the Prince; she was even pressing. It seems to me," Madame Munster added, gently, "that--under the circumstances-- I behaved very well."
Acton glanced at her, and made the observation--he had made it before-- that a woman looks the prettier for having unfolded her wrongs or her sufferings. "Well," he reflected, audibly, "I should like to see you send his serene highness--somewhere!"
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