“Why should she do such a thing?” he said aloud, his voice heavy with skepticism.

“Ah, for that I feel I should go back to the beginning,” she said ruefully, leaning back and regarding him with the air of a lecturer.

“Forgive me if I tell you what you already know. Sometimes we imagine our affairs are of as much interest to others as they are to us, and of course they are not. However, most of the world is familiar with the romance of Friedrich and Gisela, and how our crown prince fell in love with a woman his family would not accept and renounced his right to the throne rather than give her up.”

Rathbone nodded. Of course, it was a story that had fascinated and bewitched Europe; it was the romance of the century, which was why this woman’s accusation of murder was so absurd and unbelievable. Only innate good manners prevented him from stopping her and asking her to leave.

“You must understand that our country is very small,” she continued, amusement on her lips as if she understood his skepticism completely, and yet also an urgency, as if in spite of her intellectual awareness it mattered to her passionately that he believe her. “And situated in the heart of the German states.” Her eyes did not leave his face. “On all sides of us are other protectorates and principalities. We are all in upheaval. Most of Europe is. But unlike France or Britain or Austria, we are faced with the possibility of being united, whether we like it or not, and forming one great state of Germany. Some of us do like it.” Her lips tightened. “Some of us do not.”

“Has this really to do with Princess Gisela and the death of Friedrich?” he interrupted. “Are you saying it was a political murder?”

“No, of course not! How could you be so naive?” she said with exasperation.

Suddenly he wondered how old she was. What had happened to her in her life? Whom had she loved or hated; what extravagant dreams had she pursued and won, or lost? She moved like a young woman, with an ease and pride, as if her body were supple. Yet her voice had not the timbre of youth, and her eyes had far too much knowledge and too much wit and assurance to be immature.

The response that rose to his lips was stiff, and he knew before he spoke that he would sound offended. He changed his mind.

“The jury will be naive, madam,” he pointed out, carefully keeping his face expressionless. “Explain to me—to us, the jury—why the princess for whom Prince Friedrich gave up his crown and his country should, after twelve years of marriage, suddenly murder her husband. It seems to me she would have everything to lose. What can you persuade me she has to gain?”

Outside, the dull rumble of the traffic was broken by a drayman’s shout.

The amusement faded in her eyes.

“We must go back to politics, but not because this was a political murder,” she said obediently. “On the contrary, it was highly personal. Gisela was a totally material woman. There are very few political women, you know? Most of us are far too immediate and too practical. Still, that is not a crime.” She dismissed it. “I need to explain the politics to you so you will understand what she had to lose … and to gain.” She rearranged herself slightly in the chair. Even the very small hoop of her skirt seemed to annoy her, as if it was an affectation she would sooner have done without.

“Would you care for tea?” he offered. “I can have Simms bring a tray.”

“I should only talk too much and allow it to go cold,” she responded. “I loathe cold tea. But thank you for the offer. You have beautiful manners, so very correct. Nothing ruffles you. That is the stiff upper lip you English are so famous for. I find it infuriating and charming at the same time.”

To his fury, he felt himself blushing.

She ignored it, although she undoubtedly noticed.

“King Karl is not in good health,” she said, resuming the story. “He never has been. And quite frankly, we all know that he will not live more than another two or three years, at the most. Since Friedrich abdicated, Karl will now be succeeded by his younger son, Crown Prince Waldo. Waldo is not against unification. He sees that it has certain advantages. Fighting against it unquestionably would have many disadvantages—such as the likelihood of a war, which we would eventually lose. The only people who would be certain to profit would be arms manufacturers and their like.” Her face was heavy with contempt.

“Princess Gisela.” He brought her back to the subject.

“I was coming to her. Friedrich was for independence, even at the price of fighting. There were many of us who felt as he did, most particularly in and about the court.”

“But not Waldo? Surely he had most to lose?”

“People see love of their country in different ways, Sir Oliver,” she said with sudden gravity. “For some it is to fight for independence, even to give our lives for it if necessary.” She looked at him very directly. “For Queen Ulrike it is to live a certain kind of way, to exercise self-control, mastery of will, to spend her whole life trying to connive and coerce what she sees as right. To make sure everyone else behaves according to a code of honor she holds dear above all things.” She was watching him closely, judging his reactions. “To Waldo it is that his people should have bread on their tables and be able to sleep in their beds without fear. I think he would like them to be able to read and write whatever they believe also, but that may be asking for too much.” There was an unreadable sadness behind her green eyes. “No one has everything. But I think Waldo may be rather more realistic. He will not have us all drown trying to hold back a tide which he believes is bound to come in, whatever we do.”

“And Gisela?” he asked yet again, as much to bring his own mind to the subject as hers.

“Gisela has no patriotism!” she spat, her face tight and hard. “If she had, she would never have tried to be queen. She wanted it for herself, not for her people—or for independence or unification or anything political or national, just for the allure.”

“You dislike her,” Rathbone observed mildly.

She laughed, her face seemingly transformed, but the relentless anger was only just behind the amusement. “I loathe her. But that is beside the point. It does not make what I say true or untrue….”

“But it will prejudice a jury,” he pointed out. “They may think you speak from envy.”

She was silent for a moment.

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