He waited. No sound penetrated from the office beyond the door, and the traffic in the street had resumed its steady noise.

“You are right,” she admitted. “How tedious to have to consider such logicalities, but I can see it is necessary.”

“Gisela, if you please. Why should she wish to murder Friedrich? Not because he was for independence, even at the cost of war?”

“No, and yet indirectly, yes.”

“Very clear,” he said with a whisper of sarcasm. “Please explain yourself.”

“I am trying to!” Impatience flared in her eyes. “There is a considerable faction which would fight for independence. They need a leader around whom to gather—”

“I see. Friedrich—the original crown prince! But he abdicated. He lives in exile.”

She leaned forward, her face eager.

“But he could return.”

“Could he?” Again he was doubtful. “What about Waldo? And the Queen?”

“That’s it!” she said almost jubilantly. “Waldo would fight against it, not for the crown but to avoid a war with Prussia or whoever else was first to try to swallow us. But the Queen would ally with Friedrich for the cause of independence.”

“Then Gisela could be queen on the King’s death,” Rathbone pointed out. “Didn’t you say that was what she wanted?”

She looked at him with gleaming eyes, green and brilliant, but her face was filled with exaggerated patience.

“The Queen will not tolerate Gisela in the country. If Friedrich comes back, he must come alone. Rolf Lansdorff, the Queen’s brother, who is extremely powerful, is also for Friedrich’s return, but would never tolerate Gisela. He believes Waldo is weak and will lead us to ruin.”

“And would Friedrich return without Gisela, for his country’s sake?” he asked doubtfully. “He gave up the throne for her once. Would he now go back on that?”

She looked at him steadily. Her face was extraordinary; there was so much force of conviction in it, of emotion and will. When she spoke of Gisela it was ugly, the nose too large, too long, the eyes too widely spaced. When she spoke of her country, of love, of duty, she was beautiful. Compared with her, everyone else seemed ungenerous, insipid. Rathbone was quite unaware of the traffic beyond the window, the clatter of hooves, the occasional call of voices, the sunlight on the glass, or of Simms and the other clerks in the office beyond the door. He was thinking only of a small German principality and the struggle for power and survival, the loves and hates of a royal family, and the passion which fired this woman in front of him and made her more exciting and more profoundly alive than anyone else he could think of. He felt the surge of it run through his own blood.

“Would he go back on that?” he repeated.

A curious look of pain, pity, almost embarrassment, crossed her face. For the first time she did not look directly at him, as though she wished to shield her inner feelings from his perception.

“Friedrich has always believed in his heart that his country would want him back one day and that when that time came, they would accept Gisela also and see her worth—as he does, of course, not as it is. He lived on those dreams. He promised her it would be so. Every year he would say it yet again.” She met Rathbone’s eyes. “So to answer your question, he would not see returning to Felzburg as going back on his commitment to Gisela but as returning in triumph with her at his side, vindicating all he had ever believed. But she is not a fool. She knows it would never be so. He would return, and she would be denied entrance, publicly humiliated. He would be astounded, dismayed, distraught, but by then Rolf Lansdorff and the Queen would see to it that he did not renounce a second time.”

“You believe that is what would have happened?” he asked quietly.

“We shall never know, shall we?” Zorah said with a curious, bleak smile. “He is dead.”

The impact of it shook Rathbone suddenly and forcibly. Now murder did not seem so unreasonable. People had been killed for immeasurably less.

“I see,” he said very soberly. “That does make a very strong argument which a jury of ordinary men from any street would grasp.” He folded his hands into a steeple and leaned his elbows on the desk. “Now, why should they believe it was the unfortunate widow who committed murder, and not some follower of Prince Waldo or of any other German power who believes in unification? Surely they also have powerful motives? Countless murders have been committed for the gain or loss of a kingdom, but would Gisela really kill Friedrich rather than lose him?”

Her strong, slender fingers grasped the arms of the leather chair as she leaned forward towards him, her face intent.

“Yes!” she said unwaveringly. “She doesn’t care a fig about Felzburg, or any of us. If he returns now, renouncing her—whether it was by his own will or by coercion is immaterial; the world won’t know or care—then the whole dream crumbles, the great love story falls apart. She is a pathetic, even ridiculous figure, a woman abandoned after twelve years of marriage, no longer in her first youth.”

Her face sharpened, her voice grew husky. “On the other hand, if she is widowed, then she is the great figure of domestic tragedy again, the center of admiration and envy. She has mystery, allure. And she is free to offer her favor to admirers or not, as long as she is discreet. She goes down in legend as one of the world’s great lovers, to be remembered in song and story. Who would not in their hearts envy that? It is a kind of immortality. Above all, one remembers her with awe, with respect. No one laughs. And of course,” she added, “she has his private fortune.”

“I see.” He was convinced in spite of himself. She had his total attention, his intellect and his emotion. He could not help imagining the passions which had moved the Prince at first, his overwhelming love for a woman, so intense he had sacrificed a country and a throne for her. What must she be like? What radiance of character, what unique charms, had she to inspire such a love?

Was she something like Zorah Rostova herself, so intensely alive she awoke in him dreams and hungers he had

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