Long Live the King
The Countess Loschek was alone. Alone and storming. She had sent her maid away with
a sharp word, and now she was pacing the floor.
Hedwig, of all people!
She hated her. She had always hated her. For her youth, first; later, when she saw how
things were going, for the accident that had made her a granddaughter to the King.
Even this last June, when Karl had made his looked-for visit to the summer palace where
the Court had been in, residence, he had already had the thing in mind. Even when his
arms had been about her, Olga Loschek, he had been looking over her shoulder, as it
were, at Hedwig. He had had it all in his wicked head, even then. For Karl was wicked.
None would know it better than she, who was risking everything, life itself, for him.
Wicked; ungrateful, and unscrupulous. She loathed him while she loved him.
The thing would happen. This was the way things were done in Courts. An intimation
from one side that a certain thing would be agreeable and profitable. A discussion behind
closed doors. A reply that the intimation had been well received. Then the formal
proposal, and its acceptance.
Hedwig would marry Karl. She might be troublesome, would indeed almost certainly be
troublesome. Strangely enough, the Countess hated her the more for that. To value so
lightly the thing for which Olga Loschek would have given her soul, this in itself was
hateful. But there was more. The Countess saw much with her curiously wide, almost
childishly bland eyes; it was only now that it occurred to her to turn what she knew of
Hedwig and Nikky to account.
She stopped pacing the floor, and sat down. Suppose Hedwig and Nikky Larisch went
away together? Hedwig, she felt, would have the courage even for that. That would stop
things. But Hedwig did not trust her. And there was about Nikky a dog-like quality of
devotion, which warned her that, the deeper his love for Hedwig, the more unlikely he
would be to bring her to disgrace. Nikky might be difficult.
"The fool!" said the Countess, between her clenched teeth. To both the Archduchess
Annunciata and her henchwoman, people were chiefly divided into three classes, fools,
knaves, and themselves.
She must try for Hedwig's confidence, then. But Karl! How to reach him? Not with
reproaches, not with anger. She knew her man well. To hold him off was the first thing.
To postpone the formal proposal, and gain time. If the Chancellor had been right, and