Part 2 out of 6
of brown tweeds (none the better for being crushed into a bundle
the night before); his face was in deep shadow, but Rischenheim
perceived that the beard was indeed gone. The king held out his
hand to Rischenheim, and motioned him to sit in a chair just
opposite to him and within a foot of the window-curtains.
"I'm delighted to see you, my lord," said the king.
Rischenheim looked up. Rudolf's voice had once been so like the
king's that no man could tell the difference, but in the last
year or two the king's had grown weaker, and Rischenheim seemed
to be struck by the vigor of the tones in which he was addressed.
As he looked up, there was a slight movement in the curtains by
him; it died away when the count gave no further signs of
suspicion, but Rudolf had noticed his surprise: the voice, when
it next spoke, was subdued.
"Most delighted," pursued Mr. Rassendyll. "For I am pestered
beyond endurance about those dogs. I can't get the coats right,
I've tried everything, but they won't come as I wish. Now, yours
"You are very good, sire. But I ventured to ask an audience in
"Positively you must tell me about the dogs. And before Sapt
comes, for I want nobody to hear but myself."
"Your Majesty expects Colonel Sapt?"
"In about twenty minutes," said the king, with a glance at the
clock on the mantelpiece.
At this Rischenheim became all on fire to get his errand done
before Sapt appeared.
"The coats of your dogs," pursued the king, "grow so
"A thousand pardons, sire, but--"
"Long and silky, that I despair of--"
"I have a most urgent and important matter," persisted
Rischenheim in agony.
Rudolf threw himself back in his chair with a peevish air. "Well,
if you must, you must. What is this great affair, Count? Let us
have it over, and then you can tell me about the dogs."
Rischenheim looked round the room. There was nobody; the curtains
were still; the king's left hand caressed his beardless chin; the
right was hidden from his visitor by the small table that stood
"Sire, my cousin, the Count of Hentzau, has entrusted me with a
Rudolf suddenly assumed a stern air.
"I can hold no communication, directly or indirectly, with the
Count of Hentzau," said he.
"Pardon me, sire, pardon me. A document has come into the count's
hands which is of vital importance to your Majesty."
"The Count of Hentzau, my lord, has incurred my heaviest
"Sire, it is in the hopes of atoning for his offences that he has
sent me here to-day. There is a conspiracy against your Majesty's
"By whom, my lord?" asked Rudolf, in cold and doubting tones.
"By those who are very near your Majesty's person and very high
in your Majesty's love."
"Sire, I dare not. You would not believe me. But your Majesty
will believe written evidence."
"Show it me, and quickly. We may be interrupted."
"Sire, I have a copy--"
"Oh, a copy, my lord?" sneered Rudolf.
"My cousin has the original, and will forward it at your
Majesty's command. A copy of a letter of her Majesty's--"
"Of the queen's?"
"Yes, sire. It is addressed to--" Rischenheim paused.
"Well, my lord, to whom?"
"To a Mr. Rudolf Rassendyll."
Now Rudolf played his part well. He did not feign indifference,
but allowed his voice to tremble with emotion as he stretched out
his hand and said in a hoarse whisper, "Give it me, give it me."
Rischenheim's eyes sparkled. His shot had told: the king's
attention was his; the coats of the dogs were forgotten. Plainly
he had stirred the suspicions and jealousy of the king.
"My cousin," he continued, "conceives it his duty to lay the
letter before your Majesty. He obtained it--"
"A curse on how he got it! Give it me!"
Rischenheim unbuttoned his coat, then his waistcoat. The head of
a revolver showed in a belt round his waist. He undid the flap of
a pocket in the lining of his waistcoat, and he began to draw out
a sheet of paper.
But Rudolf, great as his powers of self-control were, was but
human. When he saw the paper, he leant forward, half rising from
his chair. As a result, his face came beyond the shadow of the
curtain, and the full morning light beat on it. As Rischenheim
took the paper out, he looked up. He saw the face that glared so
eagerly at him; his eyes met Rassendyll's: a sudden suspicion
seized him, for the face, though the king's face in every
feature, bore a stern resolution and witnessed a vigor that were
not the king's. In that instant the truth, or a hint of it,
flashed across his mind. He gave a half-articulate cry; in one
hand he crumpled up the paper, the other flew to his revolver.
But he was too late. Rudolf's left hand encircled his hand and
the paper in an iron grip; Rudolf's revolver was on his temple;
and an arm was stretched out from behind the curtain, holding
another barrel full before his eyes, while a dry voice said,
"You'd best take it quietly." Then Sapt stepped out.
Rischenheim had no words to meet the sudden transformation of the
interview. He seemed to be able to do nothing but stare at Rudolf
Rassendyll. Sapt wasted no time. He snatched the count's revolver
and stowed it in his own pocket.
"Now take the paper," said he to Rudolf, and his barrel held
Rischenheim motionless while Rudolf wrenched the precious
document from his fingers. "Look if it's the right one. No, don't
read it through; just look. Is it right? That's good. Now put
your revolver to his head again. I'm going to search him. Stand
They compelled the count to stand up, and Sapt subjected him to a
search that made the concealment of another copy, or of any other
document, impossible. Then they let him sit down again. His eyes
seemed fascinated by Rudolf Rassendyll.
"Yet you've seen me before, I think," smiled Rudolf. "I seem to
remember you as a boy in Strelsau when I was there. Now tell us,
sir, where did you leave this cousin of yours?" For the plan was
to find out from Rischenheim where Rupert was, and to set off in
pursuit of Rupert as soon as they had disposed of Rischenheim.
But even as Rudolf spoke there was a violent knock at the door.
Rudolf sprang to open it. Sapt and his revolver kept their
places. Bernenstein was on the threshold, open-mouthed.
"The king's servant has just gone by. He's looking for Colonel
Sapt. The King has been walking in the drive, and learnt from a
sentry of Rischenheim's arrival. I told the man that you had
taken the count for a stroll round the castle, and I did not know
where you were. He says that the king may come himself at any
Sapt considered for one short instant; then he was back by the
"We must talk again later on," he said, in low quick tones. "Now
you're going to breakfast with the king. I shall be there, and
Bernenstein. Remember, not a word of your errand, not a word of
this gentleman! At a word, a sign, a hint, a gesture, a motion,
as God lives, I'll put a bullet through your head, and a thousand
kings sha'n't stop me. Rudolf, get behind the curtain. If there's
an alarm you must jump through the window into the moat and swim
"All right," said Rudolf Rassendyll. "I can read my letter
"Burn it, you fool."
"When I've read it I'll eat it, if you like, but not before."
Bernenstein looked in again. "Quick, quick! The man will be
back," he whispered.
"Bernenstein, did you hear what I said to the count?"
"Yes, I heard."
"Then you know your part. Now, gentlemen, to the king."
"Well," said an angry voice outside, "I wondered how long I was
to be kept waiting."
Rudolf Rassendyll skipped behind the curtain. Sapt's revolver
slipped into a handy pocket. Rischenheim stood with arms dangling
by his side and his waistcoat half unbuttoned. Young Bernenstein
was bowing low on the threshold, and protesting that the king's
servant had but just gone, and that they were on the point of
waiting on his Majesty. Then the king walked in, pale and
"Ah, Count," said he, "I'm glad to see you. If they had told me
you were here, you shouldn't have waited a minute. You're very
dark in here, Sapt. Why don't you draw back the curtains?" and
the king moved towards the curtain behind which Rudolf was.
"Allow me, sire," cried Sapt, darting past him and laying a hand
on the curtain.
A malicious gleam of pleasure shot into Rischenheim's eyes. "In
truth, sire," continued the constable, his hand on the curtain,
"we were so interested in what the count was saying about his
"By heaven, I forgot!" cried the king. "Yes, yes, the dogs. Now
tell me, Count--"
"Your pardon, sire," put in young Bernenstein, "but breakfast
"Yes, yes. Well, then, we'll have them together--breakfast and
the dogs. Come along, Count." The king passed his arm through
Rischenheim's, adding to Bernenstein, "Lead the way, Lieutenant;
and you, Colonel, come with us."
They went out. Sapt stopped and locked the door behind him. "Why
do you lock the door, Colonel?" asked the king.
"There are some papers in my drawer there, sire."
"But why not lock the drawer?,
"I have lost the key, sire, like the fool I am," said the
The Count of Luzau-Rischenheim did not make a very good
breakfast. He sat opposite to the king. Colonel Sapt placed
himself at the back of the king's chair, and Rischenheim saw the
muzzle of a revolver resting on the top of the chair just behind
his Majesty's right ear. Bernenstein stood in soldierly rigidity
by the door; Rischenheim looked round at him once and met a most
"You're eating nothing," said the king. "I hope you're not
"I am a little upset, sire," stammered Rischenheim, and truly
"Well, tell me about the dogs--while I eat, for I'm hungry."
Rischenheim began to disclose his secret. His statement was
decidedly wanting in clearness. The king grew impatient.
"I don't understand," said he testily, and he pushed his chair
back so quickly that Sapt skipped away, and hid the revolver
behind his back.
"Sire--" cried Rischenheim, half rising. A cough from Lieutenant
von Bernenstein interrupted him.
"Tell it me all over again," said the king. Rischenheim did as he
"Ah, I understand a little better now. Do you see, Sapt?" and he
turned his head round towards the constable. Sapt had just time
to whisk the revolver away. The count lent forward towards the
king. Lieutenant von Bernenstein coughed. The count sank back
"Perfectly, sire," said Colonel Sapt. "I understand all the count
wishes to convey to your Majesty."
"Well, I understand about half," said the king with a laugh. "But
perhaps that'll be enough."
"I think quite enough, sire," answered Sapt with a smile. The
important matter of the dogs being thus disposed of, the king
recollected that the count had asked for an audience on a matter
"Now, what did you wish to say to me?" he asked, with a weary
air. The dogs had been more interesting.
Rischenheim looked at Sapt. The revolver was in its place;
Bernenstein coughed again. Yet he saw a chance.
"Your pardon, sire," said he, "but we are not alone."
The king lifted his eyebrows.
"Is the business so private?" he asked.
"I should prefer to tell it to your Majesty alone," pleaded the
Now Sapt was resolved not to leave Rischenheim alone with the
king, for, although the count, being robbed of his evidence could
do little harm concerning the letter, he would doubtless tell the
king that Rudolf Rassendyll was in the castle. He leant now over
the king's shoulder, and said with a sneer:
"Messages from Rupert of Hentzau are too exalted matters for my
poor ears, it seems."
The king flushed red.
"Is that your business, my lord?" he asked Rischenheim sternly.
"Your Majesty does not know what my cousin--"
"It is the old plea?" interrupted the king. "He wants to come
back? Is that all, or is there anything else?"
A moment's silence followed the king's words. Sapt looked full at
Rischenheim, and smiled as he slightly raised his right hand and
showed the revolver. Bernenstein coughed twice. Rischenheim sat
twisting his fingers. He understood that, cost what it might,
they would not let him declare his errand to the king or betray
Mr. Rassendyll's presence. He cleared his throat and opened his
mouth as if to speak, but still he remained silent.
"Well, my lord, is it the old story or something new" asked the
Again Rischenheim sat silent.
"Are you dumb, my lord?" cried the king most impatiently.
"It--it is only what you call the old story, sire."
"Then let me say that you have treated me very badly in obtaining
an audience of me for any such purpose," said the king. "You knew
my decision, and your cousin knows it." Thus speaking, the king
rose; Sapt's revolver slid into his pocket; but Lieutenant von
Bernenstein drew his sword and stood at the salute; he also
"My dear Rischenheim," pursued the king more kindly, "I can allow
for your natural affection. But, believe me, in this case it
misleads you. Do me the favor not to open this subject again to
Rischenheim, humiliated and angry, could do nothing but bow in
acknowledgment of the king's rebuke.
"Colonel Sapt, see that the count is well entertained. My horse
should be at the door by now. Farewell, Count. Bernenstein, give
me your arm."
Bernenstein shot a rapid glance at the constable. Sapt nodded
reassuringly. Bernenstein sheathed his sword and gave his arm to
the king. They passed through the door, and Bernenstein closed it
with a backward push of his hand. But at this moment Rischenheim,
goaded to fury and desperate at the trick played on him--seeing,
moreover, that he had now only one man to deal with--made a
sudden rush at the door. He reached it, and his hand was on the
door-knob. But Sapt was upon him, and Sapt's revolver was at his
In the passage the king stopped.
"What are they doing in there?" he asked, hearing the noise of
the quick movements.
"I don't know, sire," said Bernenstein, and he took a step
"No, stop a minute, Lieutenant; you're pulling me along!"
"A thousand pardons, sire."
"I hear nothing more now." And there was nothing to hear, for the
two now stood dead silent inside the door.
"Nor I, sire. Will your Majesty go on?" And Bernenstein took
"You're determined I shall," said the king with a laugh, and he
let the young officer lead him away.
Inside the room, Rischenheim stood with his back against the
door. He was panting for breath, and his face was flushed and
working with excitement. Opposite to him stood Sapt, revolver in
"Till you get to heaven, my lord," said the constable, "you'll
never be nearer to it than you were in that moment. If you had
opened the door, I'd have shot you through the head."
As he spoke there came a knock at the door.
"Open it," he said brusquely to Rischenheim. With a muttered
curse the count obeyed him. A servant stood outside with a
telegram on a salver.
"Take it," whispered Sapt, and Rischenheim put out his hand.
"Your pardon, my lord, but this has arrived for you," said the
"Take it," whispered Sapt again.
"Give it me," muttered Rischenheim confusedly; and he took the
The servant bowed and shut the door.
"Open it," commanded Sapt.
"God's curse on you!" cried Rischenheim in a voice that choked
"Eh? Oh, you can have no secrets from so good a friend as I am,
my lord. Be quick and open it."
The count began to open it.
"If you tear it up, or crumple it, I'll shoot you," said Sapt
quietly. "You know you can trust my word. Now read it."
"By God, I won't read it."
"Read it, I tell you, or say your prayers."
The muzzle was within a foot of his head. He unfolded the
telegram. Then he looked at Sapt. "Read," said the constable.
"I don't understand what it means," grumbled Rischenheim.
"Possibly I may be able to help you."
"It's nothing but--"
"Read, my lord, read!"
Then he read, and this was the telegram: "Holf, 19
"A thousand thanks, my lord. And--the place it's despatched
"Just turn it so that I can see. Oh, I don't doubt you, but
seeing is believing. Ah, thanks. It's as you say. You're puzzled
what it means, Count?"
"I don't know at all what it means!"
"How strange! Because I can guess so well."
"You are very acute, sir."
"It seems to me a simple thing to guess, my lord."
"And pray," said Rischenheim, endeavoring to assume an easy and
sarcastic air, "what does your wisdom tell you that the message
"I think, my lord, that the message is an address."
"An address! I never thought of that. But I know no Holf."
"I don't think it's Holf's address."
"Whose, then?" asked Rischenheim, biting his nail, and looking
furtively at the constable.
"Why," said Sapt, "the present address of Count Rupert of
As he spoke, he fixed his eyes on the eyes of Rischenheim. He
gave a short, sharp laugh, then put his revolver in his pocket
and bowed to the count.
"In truth, you are very convenient, my dear Count," said he.
* * * * * *
CHAPTER VI. THE TASK OF THE QUEEN'S SERVANTS
THE doctor who attended me at Wintenberg was not only discreet,
but also indulgent; perhaps he had the sense to see that little
benefit would come to a sick man from fretting in helplessness on
his back, when he was on fire to be afoot. I fear he thought the
baker's rolling-pin was in my mind, but at any rate I extorted a
consent from him, and was on my way home from Wintenberg not much
more than twelve hours after Rudolf Rassendyll left me. Thus I
arrived at my own house in Strelsau on the same Friday morning
that witnessed the Count of Luzau-Rischenheim's two-fold
interview with the king at the Castle of Zenda. The moment I had
arrived, I sent James, whose assistance had been, and continued
to be, in all respects most valuable, to despatch a message to
the constable, acquainting him with my whereabouts, and putting
myself entirely at his disposal. Sapt received this message while
a council of war was being held, and the information it gave
aided not a little in the arrangements that the constable and
Rudolf Rassendyll made. What these were I must now relate,
although, I fear, at the risk of some tediousness.
Yet that council of war in Zenda was held under no common
circumstances. Cowed as Rischenheim appeared, they dared not let
him out of their sight. Rudolf could not leave the room into
which Sapt had locked him; the king's absence was to be short,
and before he came again Rudolf must be gone, Rischenheim safely
disposed of, and measures taken against the original letter
reaching the hands for which the intercepted copy had been
destined. The room was a large one. In the corner farthest from
the door sat Rischenheim, disarmed, dispirited, to all seeming
ready to throw up his dangerous game and acquiesce in any terms
presented to him. Just inside the door, guarding it, if need
should be, with their lives, were the other three, Bernenstein
merry and triumphant, Sapt blunt and cool, Rudolf calm and
clear-headed. The queen awaited the result of their deliberations
in her apartments, ready to act as they directed, but determined
to see Rudolf before he left the castle. They conversed together
in low tones. Presently Sapt took paper and wrote. This first
message was to me, and it bade me come to Zenda that afternoon;
another head and another pair of hands were sadly needed. Then
followed more deliberation; Rudolf took up the talking now, for
his was the bold plan on which they consulted. Sapt twirled his
moustache, smiling doubtfully.
"Yes, yes," murmured young Bernenstein, his eyes alight with
"It's dangerous, but the best thing," said Rudolf, carefully
sinking his voice yet lower, lest the prisoner should catch the
lightest word of what he said. "It involves my staying here till
the evening. Is that possible?"
"No; but you can leave here and hide in the forest till I join
you," said Sapt.
"Till we join you," corrected Bernenstein eagerly.
"No," said the constable, "you must look after our friend here.
Come, Lieutenant, it's all in the queen's service."
"Besides," added Rudolf with a smile, "neither the colonel nor I
would let you have a chance at Rupert. He's our game, isn't he,
The colonel nodded. Rudolf in his turn took paper, and here is
the message that he wrote:
"Holf, 19, Konigstrasse, Strelsau.--All well. He has what I had,
but wishes to see what you have. He and I will be at the
hunting-lodge at ten this evening. Bring it and meet us. The
business is unsuspected.--R."
Rudolf threw the paper across to Sapt; Bernenstein leant over the
constable's shoulder and read it eagerly.
"I doubt if it would bring me," grinned old Sapt, throwing the
"It'll bring Rupert to Hentzau. Why not? He'll know that the king
will wish to meet him unknown to the queen, and also unknown to
you, Sapt, since you were my friend: what place more likely for
the king to choose than his hunting-lodge, where he is accustomed
to go when he wishes to be alone? The message will bring him,
depend on it. Why, man, Rupert would come even if he suspected;
and why should he suspect?"
"They may have a cipher, he and Rischenheim," objected Sapt.
"No, or Rupert would have sent the address in it," retorted
"Then--when he comes?" asked Bernenstein.
"He finds such a king as Rischenheim found, and Sapt, here, at
"But he'll know you," objected Bernenstein.
"Ay, I think he'll know me," said Rudolf with a smile. "Meanwhile
we send for Fritz to come here and look after the king."
"That's your share, Lieutenant. Sapt, is any one at Tarlenheim?"
"No. Count Stanislas has put it at Fritz's disposal."
"Good; then Fritz's two friends, the Count of Luzau-Rischenheim
and Lieutenant von Bernenstein, will ride over there to-day. The
constable of Zenda will give the lieutenant twenty-four hours'
leave of absence, and the two gentlemen will pass the day and
sleep at the chateau. They will pass the day side by side,
Bernenstein, not losing sight of one another for an instant, and
they will pass the night in the same room. And one of them will
not close his eyes nor take his hand off the butt of his
"Very good, sir," said young Bernenstein.
"If he tries to escape or give any alarm, shoot him through the
head, ride to the frontier, get to safe hiding, and, if you can,
let us know."
"Yes," said Bernenstein simply. Sapt had chosen well, and the
young officer made nothing of the peril and ruin that her
Majesty's service might ask of him.
A restless movement and a weary sigh from Rischenheim attracted
their attention. He had strained his ears to listen till his head
ached, but the talkers had been careful, and he had heard nothing
that threw light on their deliberations. He had now given up his
vain attempt, and sat in listless inattention, sunk in an apathy.
"I don't think he'll give you much trouble," whispered Sapt to
Bernenstein, with a jerk of his thumb towards the captive.
"Act as if he were likely to give you much," urged Rudolf, laying
his hand on the lieutenant's arm.
"Yes, that's a wise man's advice," nodded the constable
approvingly. "We were well governed, Lieutenant, when this Rudolf
"Wasn't I also his loyal subject?" asked young Bernenstein.
"Yes, wounded in my service," added Rudolf; for he remembered how
the boy--he was little more then--had been fired upon in the
park of Tarlenheim, being taken for Mr. Rassendyll himself.
Thus their plans were laid. If they could defeat Rupert, they
would have Rischenheim at their mercy. If they could keep
Rischenheim out of the way while they used his name in their
trick, they had a strong chance of deluding and killing Rupert.
Yes, of killing him; for that and nothing less was their purpose,
as the constable of Zenda himself has told me.
"We would have stood on no ceremony," he said. "The queen's honor
was at stake, and the fellow himself an assassin."
Bernenstein rose and went out. He was gone about half an hour,
being employed in despatching the telegrams to Strelsau. Rudolf
and Sapt used the interval to explain to Rischenheim what they
proposed to do with him. They asked no pledge, and he offered
none. He heard what they said with a dulled uninterested air.
When asked if he would go without resistance, he laughed a bitter
laugh. "How can I resist?" he asked. "I should have a bullet
through my head."
"Why, without doubt," said Colonel Sapt. "My lord, you are very
"Let me advise you, my lord," said Rudolf, looking down on him
kindly enough, "if you come safe through this affair, to add
honor to your prudence, and chivalry to your honor. There is
still time for you to become a gentleman."
He turned away, followed by a glance of anger from the count and
a grating chuckle from old Sapt.
A few moments later Bernenstein returned. His errand was done,
and horses for himself and Rischenheim were at the gate of the
castle. After a few final words and clasp of the hand from
Rudolf, the lieutenant motioned to his prisoner to accompany him,
and they two walked out together, being to all appearance willing
companions and in perfect friendliness with one another. The
queen herself watched them go from the windows of her apartment,
and noticed that Bernenstein rode half a pace behind, and that
his free hand rested on the revolver by his side.
It was now well on in the morning, and the risk of Rudolf's
sojourn in the castle grew greater with every moment. Yet he was
resolved to see the queen before he went. This interview
presented no great difficulties, since her Majesty was in the
habit of coming to the constable's room to take his advice or to
consult with him. The hardest task was to contrive afterwards a
free and unnoticed escape for Mr. Rassendyll. To meet this
necessity, the constable issued orders that the company of guards
which garrisoned the castle should parade at one o'clock in the
park, and that the servants should all, after their dinner, be
granted permission to watch the manoeuvres. By this means he
counted on drawing off any curious eyes and allowing Rudolf to
reach the forest unobserved. They appointed a rendezvous in a
handy and sheltered spot; the one thing which they were compelled
to trust to fortune was Rudolf's success in evading chance
encounters while he waited. Mr. Rassendyll himself was confident
of his ability to conceal his presence, or, if need were, so to
hide his face that no strange tale of the king being seen
wandering, alone and beardless, should reach the ears of the
castle or the town.
While Sapt was making his arrangements, Queen Flavia came to the
room where Rudolf Rassendyll was. It was then nearing twelve, and
young Bernenstein had been gone half an hour. Sapt attended her
to the door, set a sentry at the end of the passage with orders
that her Majesty should on no pretence be disturbed, promised her
very audibly to return as soon as he possibly could, and
respectfully closed the door after she had entered. The constable
was well aware of the value in a secret business of doing openly
all that can safely be done with openness.
All of what passed at that interview I do not know, but a part
Queen Flavia herself told to me, or rather to Helga, my wife; for
although it was meant to reach my ear, yet to me, a man, she
would not disclose it directly. First she learnt from Mr.
Rassendyll the plans that had been made, and, although she
trembled at the danger that he must run in meeting Rupert of
Hentzau, she had such love of him and such a trust in his powers
that she seemed to doubt little of his success. But she began to
reproach herself for having brought him into this peril by
writing her letter. At this he took from his pocket the copy that
Rischenheim had carried. He had found time to read it, and now
before her eyes he kissed it.
"Had I as many lives as there are words, my queen," he said
softly, "for each word I would gladly give a life."
"Ah, Rudolf, but you've only one life, and that more mine than
yours. Did you think we should ever meet again?"
"I didn't know," said he; and now they were standing opposite one
"But I knew," she said, her eyes shining brightly; "I knew always
that we should meet once more. Not how, nor where, but just that
we should. So I lived, Rudolf."
"God bless you!" he said.
"Yes, I lived through it all."
He pressed her hand, knowing what that phrase meant and must mean
"Will it last forever?" she asked, suddenly gripping his hand
tightly. But a moment later she went on: "No, no, I mustn't make
you unhappy, Rudolf. I'm half glad I wrote the letter, and half
glad they stole it. It's so sweet to have you fighting for me,
for me only this time, Rudolf--not for the king, for me!"
"Sweet indeed, my dearest lady. Don't be afraid: we shall win."
"You will win, yes. And then you'll go?" And, dropping his hand,
she covered her face with hers.
"I mustn't kiss your face," said he, "but your hands I may kiss,"
and he kissed her hands as they were pressed against her face.
"You wear my ring," she murmured through her fingers, "always?"
"Why, yes," he said, with a little laugh of wonder at her
"And there is--no one else?"
"My queen!" said he, laughing again.
"No, I knew really, Rudolf, I knew really," and now her hands
flew out towards him, imploring his pardon. Then she began to
speak quickly: "Rudolf, last night I had a dream about you, a
strange dream. I seemed to be in Strelsau, and all the people
were talking about the king. It was you they meant; you were the
king. At last you were the king, and I was your queen. But I
could see you only very dimly; you were somewhere, but I could
not make out where; just sometimes your face came. Then I tried
to tell you that you were king--yes, and Colonel Sapt and Fritz
tried to tell you; the people, too, called out that you were
king. What did it mean? But your face, when I saw it, was
unmoved, and very pale, and you seemed not to hear what we said,
not even what I said. It almost seemed as if you were dead, and
yet king. Ah, you mustn't die, even to be king," and she laid a
hand on his shoulder.
"Sweetheart," said he gently, "in dreams desires and fears blend
in strange visions, so I seemed to you to be both a king and a
dead man; but I'm not a king, and I am a very healthy fellow. Yet
a thousand thanks to my dearest queen for dreaming of me."
"No, but what could it mean?" she asked again.
"What does it mean when I dream always of you, except that I
always love you?"
"Was it only that?" she said, still unconvinced.
What more passed between them I do not know. I think that the
queen told my wife more, but women will sometimes keep women's
secrets even from their husbands; though they love us, yet we are
always in some sort the common enemy, against whom they join
hands. Well, I would not look too far into such secrets, for to
know must be, I suppose, to blame, and who is himself so
blameless that in such a case he would be free with his censures?
Yet much cannot have passed, for almost close on their talk about
the dream came Colonel Sapt, saying that the guards were in line,
and all the women streamed out to watch them, while the men
followed, lest the gay uniforms should make them forgotten.
Certainly a quiet fell over the old castle, that only the
constable's curt tones broke, as he bade Rudolf come by the back
way to the stables and mount his horse.
"There's no time to lose," said Sapt, and his eye seemed to
grudge the queen even one more word with the man she loved.
But Rudolf was not to be hurried into leaving her in such a
fashion. He clapped the constable on the shoulder, laughing, and
bidding him think of what he would for a moment; then he went
again to the queen and would have knelt before her, but that she
would not suffer, and they stood with hands locked. Then suddenly
she drew him to her and kissed his forehead, saying: "God go with
you, Rudolf my knight."
Thus she turned away, letting him go. He walked towards the door;
but a sound arrested his steps, and he waited in the middle of
the room, his eyes on the door. Old Sapt flew to the threshold,
his sword half-way out of its sheath. There was a step coming
down the passage, and the feet stopped outside the door.
"Is it the king?" whispered Rudolf.
"I don't know," said Sapt.
"No, it's not the king," came in unhesitating certainty from
They waited: a low knock sounded on the door. Still for a moment
they waited. The knock was repeated urgently.
"We must open," said Sapt. "Behind the curtain with you, Rudolf."
The queen sat down, and Sapt piled a heap of papers before her,
that it might seem as though he and she transacted business. But
his precautions were interrupted by a hoarse, eager, low cry from
outside, "Quick! in God's name, quick!"
They knew the voice for Bernenstein's. The queen sprang up,
Rudolf came out, Sapt turned the key. The lieutenant entered,
hurried, breathless, pale.
"Well?" asked Sapt.
"He has got away?" cried Rudolf, guessing in a moment the
misfortune that had brought Bernenstein back.
"Yes, he's got away. Just as we left the town and reached the
open road towards Tarlenheim, he said, 'Are we going to walk all
the way? I was not loath to go quicker, and we broke into a trot.
But I--ah, what a pestilent fool I am!"
"Never mind that--go on."
"Why, I was thinking of him and my task, and having a bullet
ready for him, and--"
"Of everything except your horse?" guessed Sapt, with a grim
"Yes; and the horse pecked and stumbled, and I fell forward on
his neck. I put out my arm to recover myself, and--I jerked my
revolver on to the ground."
"And he saw?"
"He saw, curse him. For a second he waited; then he smiled, and
turned, and dug his spurs in and was off, straight across country
towards Strelsau. Well, I was off my horse in a moment, and I
fired three times after him."
"You hit?" asked Rudolf.
"I think so. He shifted the reins from one hand to the other and
wrung his arm. I mounted and made after him, but his horse was
better than mine and he gained ground. We began to meet people,
too, and I didn't dare to fire again. So I left him and rode here
to tell you. Never employ me again, Constable, so long as you
live," and the young man's face was twisted with misery and
shame, as, forgetting the queen's presence, he sank despondently
into a chair.
Sapt took no notice of his self-reproaches. But Rudolf went and
laid a hand on his shoulder.
"It was an accident," he said. "No blame to you."
The queen rose and walked towards him; Bernenstein sprang to his
"Sir," said she, "it is not success but effort that should gain
thanks," and she held out her hand.
Well, he was young; I do not laugh at the sob that escaped his
lips as he turned his head.
"Let me try something else!" he implored.
"Mr. Rassendyll," said the queen, "you'll do my pleasure by
employing this gentleman in my further service. I am already deep
in his debt, and would be deeper." There was a moment's silence.
"Well, but what's to be done?" asked Colonel Sapt. "He's gone to
"He'll stop Rupert" mused Mr. Rassendyll. "He may or he mayn't."
"It's odds that he will."
"We must provide for both."
Sapt and Rudolf looked at one another.
"You must be here!" asked Rudolf of the constable. "Well, I'll go
to Strelsau." His smile broke out. "That is, if Bernenstein'll
lend me a hat."
The queen made no sound; but she came and laid her hand on his
arm. He looked at her, smiling still.
"Yes, I'll go to Strelsau," said he, "and I'll find Rupert, ay,
and Rischenheim too, if they're in the city."
"Take me with you," cried Bernenstein eagerly.
Rudolf glanced at Sapt. The constable shook his head.
Bernenstein's face fell.
"It's not that, boy," said old Sapt, half in kindness, half in
impatience. "We want you here. Suppose Rupert comes here with
The idea was new, but the event was by no means unlikely.
"But you'll be here, Constable," urged Bernenstein, "and Fritz
von Tarlenheim will arrive in an hour."
"Ay, young man," said Sapt, nodding his head; "but when I fight
Rupert of Hentzau, I like to have a man to spare, and he grinned
broadly, being no whit afraid of what Bernenstein might think of
his courage. "Now go and get him a hat," he added, and the
lieutenant ran off on the errand.
But the queen cried:
"Are you sending Rudolf alone, then--alone against two?"
"Yes, madam, if I may command the campaign," said Sapt. "I take
it he should be equal to the task."
He could not know the feelings of the queen's heart. She dashed
her hand across her eyes, and turned in mute entreaty to Rudolf
"I must go," he said softly. "We can't spare Bernenstein, and I
mustn't stay here."
She said no more. Rudolf walked across to Sapt.
"Take me to the stables. Is the horse good? I daren't take the
train. Ah, here's the lieutenant and the hat."
"The horse'll get you there to-night," said Sapt. "Come along.
Bernenstein, stay with the queen."
At the threshold Rudolf paused, and, turning his head, glanced
once at Queen Flavia, who stood still as a statue, watching him
go. Then he followed the constable, who brought him where the
horse was. Sapt's devices for securing freedom from observation
had served well, and Rudolf mounted unmolested.
"The hat doesn't fit very well," said Rudolf.
"Like a crown better, eh?" suggested the colonel.
Rudolf laughed as he asked, "Well, what are my orders?"
"Ride round by the moat to the road at the back; then through the
forest to Hofbau; you know your way after that. You mustn't reach
Strelsau till it's dark. Then, if you want a shelter--"
"To Fritz von Tarlenheim's, yes! From there I shall go straight
to the address."
"Make an end of him this time."
"Please God. But if he goes to the lodge? He will, unless
Rischenheim stops him."
"I'll be there in case--but I think Rischenheim will stop him."
"If he comes here?"
"Young Bernenstein will die before he suffers him to reach the
"Be kind to her."
"Bless the man, yes!"
"And good luck."
At a swift canter Rudolf darted round the drive that led from the
stables, by the moat, to the old forest road behind; five minutes
brought him within the shelter of the trees, and he rode on
confidently, meeting nobody, save here and there a yokel, who,
seeing a man ride hard with his head averted, took no more notice
of him than to wish that he himself could ride abroad instead of
being bound to work. Thus Rudolf Rassendyll set out again for the
walls of Strelsau, through the forest of Zenda. And ahead of him,
with an hour's start, galloped the Count of Luzau-Rischenheim,
again a man, and a man with resolution, resentment, and revenge
in his heart.
The game was afoot now; who could tell the issue of it?
CHAPTER VII. THE MESSAGE OF SIMON THE HUNTSMAN
I RECEIVED the telegram sent to me by the Constable of Zenda at
my own house in Strelsau about one o'clock. It is needless to say
that I made immediate preparations to obey his summons. My wife
indeed protested--and I must admit with some show of reason--that
I was unfit to endure further fatigues, and that my bed was the
only proper place for me. I could not listen; and James, Mr.
Rassendyll's servant, being informed of the summons, was at my
elbow with a card of the trains from Strelsau to Zenda, without
waiting for any order from me. I had talked to this man in the
course of our journey, and discovered that he had been in the
service of Lord Topham, formerly British Ambassador to the Court
of Ruritania. How far he was acquainted with the secrets of his
present master, I did not know, but his familiarity with the city
and the country made him of great use to me. We discovered, to
our annoyance, that no train left till four o'clock, and then
only a slow one; the result was that we could not arrive at the
castle till past six o'clock. This hour was not absolutely too
late, but I was of course eager to be on the scene of action as
early as possible.
"You'd better see if you can get a special, my lord," James
suggested; "I'll run on to the station and arrange about it."
I agreed. Since I was known to be often employed in the king's
service, I could take a special train without exciting remark.
James set out, and about a quarter of an hour later I got into my
carriage to drive to the station. Just as the horses were about
to start, however, the butler approached me.
"I beg your pardon, my lord," said he, "but Bauer didn't return
with your lordship. Is he coming back?"
"No," said I. "Bauer was grossly impertinent on the journey, and
I dismissed him."
"Those foreign men are never to be trusted, my lord. And your
"What, hasn't it come?" I cried. "I told him to send it."
"It's not arrived, my lord."
"Can the rogue have stolen it?" I exclaimed indignantly.
"If your lordship wishes it, I will mention the matter to the
I appeared to consider this proposal.
"Wait till I come back," I ended by saying. "The bag may come,
and I have no reason to doubt the fellow's honesty."
This, I thought, would be the end of my connection with Master
Bauer. He had served Rupert's turn, and would now disappear from
the scene. Indeed it may be that Rupert would have liked to
dispense with further aid from him; but he had few whom he could
trust, and was compelled to employ those few more than once. At
any rate he had not done with Bauer, and I very soon received
proof of the fact. My house is a couple of miles from the
station, and we have to pass through a considerable part of the
old town, where the streets are narrow and tortuous and progress
necessarily slow. We had just entered the Konigstrasse (and it
must be remembered that I had at that time no reason for
attaching any special significance to this locality), and were
waiting impatiently for a heavy dray to move out of our path,
when my coachman, who had overheard the butler's conversation
with me, leant down from his box with an air of lively
"My lord," he cried, "there's Bauer--there, passing the butcher's
I sprang up in the carriage; the man's back was towards me, and
he was threading his way through the people with a quick,
stealthy tread. I believe he must have seen me, and was slinking
away as fast as he could. I was not sure of him, but the coachman
banished my doubt by saying, "It's Bauer--it's certainly Bauer,
I hardly stayed to form a resolution. If I could catch this
fellow or even see where he went, a most important clue as to
Rupert's doings and whereabouts might be put into my hand. I
leapt out of the carriage, bidding the man wait, and at once
started in pursuit of my former servant. I heard the coachman
laugh: he thought, no doubt, that anxiety for the missing bag
inspired such eager haste.
The numbers of the houses in the Konigstrasse begin, as anybody
familiar with Strelsau will remember, at the end adjoining the
station. The street being a long one, intersecting almost the
entire length of the old town, I was, when I set out after Bauer,
opposite number 300 or thereabouts, and distant nearly
three-quarters of a mile from that important number nineteen,
towards which Bauer was hurrying like a rabbit to its burrow. I
knew nothing and thought nothing of where he was going; to me
nineteen was no more than eighteen or twenty; my only desire was
to overtake him. I had no clear idea of what I meant to do when I
caught him, but I had some hazy notion of intimidating him into
giving up his secret by the threat of an accusation of theft. In
fact, he had stolen my bag. After him I went; and he knew that I
was after him. I saw him turn his face over his shoulder, and
then bustle on faster. Neither of us, pursued or pursuer, dared
quite to run; as it was, our eager strides and our carelessness
of collisions created more than enough attention. But I had one
advantage. Most folk in Strelsau knew me, and many got out of my
way who were by no means inclined to pay a like civility to
Bauer. Thus I began to gain on him, in spite of his haste; I had
started fifty yards behind, but as we neared the end of the
street and saw the station ahead of us, not more than twenty
separated me from him. Then an annoying thing happened. I ran
full into a stout old gentleman; Bauer had run into him before,
and he was standing, as people will, staring in resentful
astonishment at his first assailant's retreating figure. The
second collision immensely increased his vexation; for me it had
yet worse consequences; for when I disentangled myself, Bauer was
gone! There was not a sign of him; I looked up: the number of the
house above me was twenty-three; but the door was shut. I walked
on a few paces, past twenty-two, past twenty-one--and up to
nineteen. Nineteen was an old house, with a dirty, dilapidated
front and an air almost dissipated. It was a shop where
provisions of the cheaper sort were on view in the window, things
that one has never eaten but has heard of people eating. The
shop-door stood open, but there was nothing to connect Bauer with
the house. Muttering an oath in my exasperation, I was about to
pass on, when an old woman put her head out of the door and
looked round. I was full in front of her. I am sure that the old
woman started slightly, and I think that I did. For I knew her
and she knew me. She was old Mother Holf, one of whose sons,
Johann, had betrayed to us the secret of the dungeon at Zenda,
while the other had died by Mr. Rassendyll's hand by the side of
the great pipe that masked the king's window. Her presence might
mean nothing, yet it seemed at once to connect the house with the
secret of the past and the crisis of the present.
She recovered herself in a moment, and curtseyed to me.
"Ah, Mother Holf," said I, "how long is it since you set up shop
"About six months, my lord," she answered, with a composed air
and arms akimbo.
"I have not come across you before," said I, looking keenly at
"Such a poor little shop as mine would not be likely to secure
your lordship's patronage," she answered, in a humility that
seemed only half genuine.
I looked up at the windows. They were all closed and had their
wooden lattices shut. The house was devoid of any signs of life.
"You've a good house here, mother, though it wants a splash of
paint," said I. "Do you live all alone in it with your daughter?"
For Max was dead and Johann abroad, and the old woman had, as far
as I knew, no other children.
"Sometimes; sometimes not," said she. "I let lodgings to single
men when I can."
"Not a soul, worse luck, my lord." Then I shot an arrow at a
"The man who came in just now, then, was he only a customer?"
"I wish a customer had come in, but there has been nobody," she
replied in surprised tones.
I looked full in her eyes; she met mine with a blinking
imperturbability. There is no face so inscrutable as a clever old
woman's when she is on her guard. And her fat body barred the
entrance; I could not so much as see inside, while the window,
choked full with pigs' trotters and such-like dainties, helped me
very little. If the fox were there, he had got to earth and I
could not dig him out.
At this moment I saw James approaching hurriedly. He was looking
up the street, no doubt seeking my carriage and chafing at its
delay. An instant later he saw me.
"My lord," he said, "your train will be ready in five minutes; if
it doesn't start then, the line must be closed for another
I perceived a faint smile on the old woman's face. I was sure
then that I was on the track of Bauer, and probably of more than
Bauer. But my first duty was to obey orders and get to Zenda.
Besides, I could not force my way in, there in open daylight,
without a scandal that would have set all the long ears in
Strelsau aprick. I turned away reluctantly. I did not even know
for certain that Bauer was within, and thus had no information of
value to carry with me.
"If your lordship would kindly recommend me--" said the old hag.
"Yes, I'll recommend you," said I. "I'll recommend you to be
careful whom you take for lodgers. There are queer fish about,
"I take the money beforehand," she retorted with a grin; and I
was as sure that she was in the plot as of my own existence.
There was nothing to be done; James's face urged me towards the
station. I turned away. But at this instant a loud, merry laugh
sounded from inside the house. I started, and this time
violently. The old woman's brow contracted in a frown, and her
lips twitched for a moment; then her face regained its composure;
but I knew the laugh, and she must have guessed that I knew it.
Instantly I tried to appear as though I had noticed nothing. I
nodded to her carelessly, and bidding James follow me, set out
for the station. But as we reached the platform, I laid my hand
on his shoulder, saying:
"The Count of Hentzau is in that house, James."
He looked at me without surprise; he was as hard to stir to
wonder as old Sapt himself.
"Indeed, sir. Shall I stay and watch?"
"No, come with me," I answered. To tell the truth, I thought that
to leave him alone in Strelsau to watch that house was in all
likelihood to sign his death warrant, and I shrank from imposing
the duty on him. Rudolf might send him if he would; I dared not.
So we got into our train, and I suppose that my coachman, when he
had looked long enough for me, went home. I forgot to ask him
afterwards. Very likely he thought it a fine joke to see his
master hunting a truant servant and a truant bag through the
streets in broad daylight. Had he known the truth, he would have
been as interested, though, maybe, less amused.
I arrived at the town of Zenda at half-past three, and was in the
castle before four. I may pass over the most kind and gracious
words with which the queen received me. Every sight of her face
and every sound of her voice bound a man closer to her service,
and now she made me feel that I was a poor fellow to have lost
her letter and yet to be alive. But she would hear nothing of
such talk, choosing rather to praise the little I had done than
to blame the great thing in which I had failed. Dismissed from
her presence, I flew open-mouthed to Sapt. I found him in his
room with Bernenstein, and had the satisfaction of learning that
my news of Rupert's whereabouts was confirmed by his information.
I was also made acquainted with all that had been done, even as I
have already related it, from the first successful trick played
on Rischenheim to the moment of his unfortunate escape. But my
face grew long and apprehensive when I heard that Rudolf
Rassendyll had gone alone to Strelsau to put his head in that
lion's mouth in the Konigstrasse.
"There will be three of them there--Rupert, Rischenheim, and my
rascal Bauer," said I.
"As to Rupert, we don't know," Sapt reminded me. "He'll be there
if Rischenheim arrives in time to tell him the truth. But we have
also to be ready for him here, and at the hunting lodge. Well,
we're ready for him wherever he is: Rudolf will be in Strelsau,
you and I will ride to the lodge, and Bernenstein will be here
with the queen."
"Only one here?" I asked.
"Ay, but a good one," said the constable, clapping Bernenstein on
the shoulder. "We sha'n't be gone above four hours, and those
while the king is safe in his bed. Bernenstein has only to refuse
access to him, and stand to that with his life till we come back.
You're equal to that, eh, Lieutenant?"
I am, by nature, a cautious man, and prone to look. at the dark
side of every prospect and the risks of every enterprise; but I
could not see what better dispositions were possible against the
attack that threatened us. Yet I was sorely uneasy concerning Mr.
Now, after all our stir and runnings to and fro, came an hour or
two of peace. We employed the time in having a good meal, and it
was past five when, our repast finished, we sat back in our
chairs enjoying cigars. James had waited on us, quietly usurping
the office of the constable's own servant, and thus we had been
able to talk freely. The man's calm confidence in his master and
his master's fortune also went far to comfort me.
"The king should be back soon," said Sapt at last, with a glance
at his big, old-fashioned silver watch. "Thank God, he'll be too
tired to sit up long. We shall be free by nine o'clock, Fritz. I
wish young Rupert would come to the lodge!" And the colonel's
face expressed a lively pleasure at the idea.
Six o'clock struck, and the king did not appear. A few moments
later, a message came from the queen, requesting our presence on
the terrace in front of the chateau. The place commanded a view
of the road by which the king would ride back, and we found the
queen walking restlessly up and down, considerably disquieted by
the lateness of his return. In such a position as ours, every
unusual or unforeseen incident magnifies its possible meaning,
and invests itself with a sinister importance which would at
ordinary times seem absurd. We three shared the queen's feelings,
and forgetting the many chances of the chase, any one of which
would amply account for the king's delay, fell to speculating on
remote possibilities of disaster. He might have met
Rischenheim--though they had ridden in opposite directions;
Rupert might have intercepted him--though no means could have
brought Rupert to the forest so early. Our fears defeated common
sense, and our conjectures outran possibility. Sapt was the first
to recover from this foolish mood, and he rated us soundly, not
sparing even the queen herself. With a laugh we regained some of
our equanimity, and felt rather ashamed of our weakness.
"Still it's strange that he doesn't come," murmured the queen,
shading her eyes with her hand, and looking along the road to
where the dark masses of the forest trees bounded our view. It
was already dusk, but not so dark but that we could have seen the
king's party as soon as it came into the open.
If the king's delay seemed strange at six, it was stranger at
seven, and by eight most strange. We had long since ceased to
talk lightly; by now we had lapsed into silence. Sapt's scoldings
had died away. The queen, wrapped in her furs (for it was very
cold), sat sometimes on a seat, but oftener paced restlessly to
and fro. Evening had fallen. We did not know what to do, nor even
whether we ought to do anything. Sapt would not own to sharing
our worst apprehensions, but his gloomy silence in face of our
surmises witnessed that he was in his heart as disturbed as we
were. For my part I had come to the end of my endurance, and I
cried, "For God's sake, let's act! Shall I go and seek him?"
"A needle in a bundle of hay," said Sapt with a shrug.
But at this instant my ear caught the sound of horses cantering
on the road from the forest; at the same moment Bernenstein
cried, "Here they come!" The queen paused, and we gathered round
her. The horse-hoofs came nearer. Now we made out the figures of
three men: they were the king's huntsmen, and they rode along
merrily, singing a hunting chorus. The sound of it brought relief
to us; so far at least there was no disaster. But why was not the
king with them?
"The king is probably tired, and is following more slowly,
madam," suggested Bernenstein.
This explanation seemed very probable, and the lieutenant and I,
as ready to be hopeful on slight grounds as fearful on small
provocation, joyfully accepted it. Sapt, less easily turned to
either mood, said, "Ay, but let us hear," and raising his voice,
called to the huntsmen, who had now arrived in the avenue. One of
them, the king's chief huntsman Simon, gorgeous in his uniform of
green and gold, came swaggering along, and bowed low to the
"Well, Simon, where is the king?" she asked, trying to smile.
"The king, madam, has sent a message by me to your majesty."
"Pray, deliver it to me, Simon."
"I will, madam. The king has enjoyed fine sport; and, indeed,
madam, if I may say so for myself, a better run.--"
"You may say, friend Simon," interrupted the constable, tapping
him on the shoulder, "anything you like for yourself, but, as a
matter of etiquette, the king's message should come first."
"Oh, ay, Constable," said Simon. "You're always so down on a man,
aren't you? Well, then, madam, the king has enjoyed fine sport.
For we started a boar at eleven, and--"
"Is this the king's message, Simon?" asked the queen, smiling in
genuine amusement, but impatiently.
"Why, no, madam, not precisely his majesty's message."
"Then get to it, man, in Heaven's name," growled Sapt testily.
For here were we four (the queen, too, one of us!) on
tenterhooks, while the fool boasted about the sport that he had
shown the king. For every boar in the forest Simon took as much
credit as though he, and not Almighty God, had made the animal.
It is the way with such fellows.
Simon became a little confused under the combined influence of
his own seductive memories and Sapt's brusque exhortations.
"As I was saying, madam," he resumed, "the boar led us a long
way, but at last the hounds pulled him down, and his majesty
himself gave the coup de grace. Well, then it was very late "
"It's no earlier now," grumbled the constable.
"And the king, although indeed, madam, his majesty was so
gracious as to say that no huntsman whom his majesty had ever
had, had given his majesty--"
"God help us!" groaned the constable.
Simon shot an apprehensive apologetic glance at Colonel Sapt. The
constable was frowning ferociously. In spite of the serious
matters in hand I could not forbear a smile, while young
Bernenstein broke into an audible laugh, which he tried to
smother with his hand.
"Yes, the king was very tired, Simon?" said the queen, at once
encouraging him and bringing him back to the point with a woman's
"Yes, madam, the king was very tired; and as we chanced to kill
near the hunting-lodge--"
I do not know whether Simon noticed any change in the manner of
his audience. But the queen looked up with parted lips, and I
believe that we three all drew a step nearer him. Sapt did not
interrupt this time.
"Yes, madam, the king was very tired, and as we chanced to kill
near the hunting-lodge, the king bade us carry our quarry there,
and come back to dress it to-morrow; so we obeyed, and here we
are--that is, except Herbert, my brother, who stayed with the
king by his majesty's orders. Because, madam, Herbert is a handy
fellow, and my good mother taught him to cook a steak and--"
"Stayed where with the king?" roared Sapt.
"Why, at the hunting-lodge, Constable. The king stays there
to-night, and will ride back tomorrow morning with Herbert. That,
madam, is the king's message."
We had come to it at last, and it was something to come to. Simon
gazed from face to face. I saw him, and I understood at once that
our feelings must be speaking too plainly. So I took on myself to
dismiss him, saying:
"Thanks, Simon, thanks: we understand."
He bowed to the queen; she roused herself, and added her thanks
to mine. Simon withdrew, looking still a little puzzled.
After we were left alone, there was a moment's silence. Then I
The Constable of Zenda broke in with a short laugh.
"On my life," said he, "how things fall out! We say he will go to
the hunting-lodge, and--he goes!"
"If Rupert goes--if Rischenheim doesn't stop him!" I urged again.
The queen rose from her seat and stretched out her hands towards
"Gentlemen, my letter!" said she.
Sapt wasted no time.
"Bernenstein," said he, "you stay here as we arranged. Nothing is
altered. Horses for Fritz and myself in five minutes."
Bernenstein turned and shot like an arrow along the terrace
towards the stables.
"Nothing is altered, madam," said Sapt, "except that we must be
there before Count Rupert."
I looked at my watch. It was twenty minutes past nine. Simon's
cursed chatter had lost a quarter of an hour. I opened my lips to
speak. A glance from Sapt's eyes told me that he discerned what I
was about to say. I was silent.
"You'll be in time?" asked the queen, with clasped hands and
"Assuredly, madam," returned Sapt with a bow.
"You won't let him reach the king?"
"Why, no, madam," said Sapt with a smile.
"From my heart, gentlemen," she said in a trembling voice, "from
"Here are the horses," cried Sapt. He snatched her hand, brushed
it with his grizzly moustache, and--well, I am not sure I heard,
and I can hardly believe what I think I heard. But I will set it
down for what it is worth. I think he said, "Bless your sweet
face, we'll do it." At any rate she drew back with a little cry
of surprise, and I saw the tears standing in her eyes. I kissed
her hand also; then we mounted, and we started, and we rode, as
if the devil were behind us, for the hunting-lodge.
But I turned once to watch her standing on the terrace, with
young Bernenstein's tall figure beside her.
"Can we be in time?" said I. It was what I had meant to say
"I think not, but, by God, we'll try," said Colonel Sapt. And I
knew why he had not let me speak.
Suddenly there was a sound behind us of a horse at the gallop.
Our heads flew round in the ready apprehension of men on a
perilous errand. The hoofs drew near, for the unknown rode with
"We had best see what it is," said the constable, pulling up.
A second more, and the horseman was beside us. Sapt swore an
oath, half in amusement, half in vexation.
"Why, is it you, James?" I cried.
"Yes, sir," answered Rudolf Rassendyll's servant.
"What the devil do you want?" asked Sapt.
"I came to attend on the Count von Tarlenheim, sir."
"I did not give you any orders, James."
"No, sir. But Mr. Rassendyll told me not to leave you, unless you
sent me away. So I made haste to follow you."
Then Sapt cried: "Deuce take it, what horse is that?"
"The best in the stables, so far as I could see, sir. I was
afraid of not overtaking you."
Sapt tugged his moustaches, scowled, but finally laughed.
"Much obliged for your compliment," said he. "The horse is mine."
"Indeed, sir?" said James with respectful interest.
For a moment we were all silent. Then Sapt laughed again.
"Forward!" said he, and the three of us dashed into the forest.
CHAPTER VIII. THE TEMPER OF BORIS THE HOUND
Looking back now, in the light of the information I have
gathered, I am able to trace very clearly, and almost hour by
hour, the events of this day, and to understand how chance,
laying hold of our cunning plan and mocking our wiliness, twisted
and turned our device to a predetermined but undreamt-of issue,
of which we were most guiltless in thought or intent. Had the
king not gone to the hunting-lodge, our design would have found
the fulfilment we looked for; had Rischenheim succeeded in
warning Rupert of Hentzau, we should have stood where we were.
Fate or fortune would have it otherwise. The king, being weary,
went to the lodge, and Rischenheim failed in warning his cousin.
It was a narrow failure, for Rupert, as his laugh told me, was in
the house in the Konigstrasse when I set out from Strelsau, and
Rischenheim arrived there at half past four. He had taken the
train at a roadside station, and thus easily outstripped Mr.
Rassendyll, who, not daring to show his face, was forced to ride
all the way and enter the city under cover of night. But
Rischenheim had not dared to send a warning, for he knew that we
were in possession of the address and did not know what steps we
might have taken to intercept messages. Therefore he was obliged
to carry the news himself; when he came his man was gone. Indeed
Rupert must have left the house almost immediately after I was
safe away from the city. He was determined to be in good time for
his appointment; his only enemies were not in Strelsau; there was
no warrant on which he could be apprehended; and, although his
connection with Black Michael was a matter of popular gossip, he
felt himself safe from arrest by virtue of the secret that
protected him. Accordingly he walked out of the house, went to
the station, took his ticket to Hofbau, and, traveling by the
four o'clock train, reached his destination about half-past five.
He must have passed the train in which Rischenheim traveled; the
first news the latter had of his departure was from a porter at
the station, who, having recognized the Count of Hentzau,
ventured to congratulate Rischenheim on his cousin's return.
Rischenheim made no answer, but hurried in great agitation to the
house in the Konigstrasse, where the old woman Holf confirmed
the tidings. Then he passed through a period of great
irresolution. Loyalty to Rupert urged that he should follow him
and share the perils into which his cousin was hastening. But
caution whispered that he was not irrevocably committed, that
nothing overt yet connected him with Rupert's schemes, and that
we who knew the truth should be well content to purchase his
silence as to the trick we had played by granting him immunity.
His fears won the day, and, like the irresolute man he was, he
determined to wait in Strelsau till he heard the issue of the
meeting at the lodge. If Rupert were disposed of there, he had
something to offer us in return for peace; if his cousin escaped,
he would be in the Konigstrasse, prepared to second the further
plans of the desperate adventurer. In any event his skin was
safe, and I presume to think that this weighed a little with him;
for excuse he had the wound which Bernenstein had given him, and
which rendered his right arm entirely useless; had he gone then,
he would have been a most inefficient ally.
Of all this we, as we rode through the forest, knew nothing. We
might guess, conjecture, hope, or fear; but our certain knowledge
stopped with Rischenheim's start for the capital and Rupert's
presence there at three o'clock. The pair might have met or might
have missed. We had to act as though they had missed and Rupert
were gone to meet the king. But we were late. The consciousness
of that pressed upon us, although we evaded further mention of
it; it made us spur and drive our horses as quickly, ay, and a
little more quickly, than safety allowed. Once James's horse
stumbled in the darkness and its rider was thrown; more than once
a low bough hanging over the path nearly swept me, dead or
stunned, from my seat. Sapt paid no attention to these mishaps or
threatened mishaps. He had taken the lead, and, sitting well down
in his saddle, rode ahead, turning neither to right nor left,
never slackening his pace, sparing neither himself nor his beast.
James and I were side by side behind him. We rode in silence,
finding nothing to say to one another. My mind was full of a
picture--the picture of Rupert with his easy smile handing to
the king the queen's letter. For the hour of the rendezvous was
past. If that image had been translated into reality, what must
we do? To kill Rupert would satisfy revenge, but of what other
avail would it be when the king had read the letter? I am ashamed
to say that I found myself girding at Mr. Rassendyll for
happening on a plan which the course of events had turned into a
trap for ourselves and not for Rupert of Hentzau.
Suddenly Sapt, turning his head for the first time, pointed in
front of him. The lodge was before us; we saw it looming dimly a
quarter of a mile off. Sapt reined in his horse, and we followed
his example. All dismounted, we tied our horses to trees and went
forward at a quick, silent walk. Our idea was that Sapt should
enter on pretext of having been sent by the queen to attend to
her husband's comfort and arrange for his return without further
fatigue next day. If Rupert had come and gone, the king's
demeanor would probably betray the fact; if he had not yet come,
I and James, patrolling outside, would bar his passage. There was
a third possibility; he might be even now with the king. Our
course in such a case we left unsettled; so far as I had any
plan, it was to kill Rupert and to convince the king that the
letter was a forgery--a desperate hope, so desperate that we
turned our eyes away from the possibility which would make it our
We were now very near the hunting-lodge, being about forty yards
from the front of it. All at once Sapt threw himself on his
stomach on the ground.
"Give me a match," he whispered.
James struck a light, and, the night being still, the flame burnt
brightly: it showed us the mark of a horse's hoof, apparently
quite fresh, and leading away from the lodge. We rose and went
on, following the tracks by the aid of more matches till we
reached a tree twenty yards from the door. Here the hoof marks
ceased; but beyond there was a double track of human feet in the
soft black earth; a man had gone thence to the house and returned
from the house thither. On the right of the tree were more
hoof-marks, leading up to it and then ceasing. A man had ridden
up from the right, dismounted, gone on foot to the house,
returned to the tree, remounted, and ridden away along the track
by which we had approached.
"It may be somebody else," said I; but I do not think that we any
of us doubted in our hearts that the tracks were made by the
coming of Hentzau. Then the king had the letter; the mischief was
done. We were too late.
Yet we did not hesitate. Since disaster had come, it must be
faced. Mr. Rassendyll's servant and I followed the constable of
Zenda up to the door, or within a few feet of it. Here Sapt, who
was in uniform, loosened his sword in its sheath; James and I
looked to our revolvers. There were no lights visible in the
lodge; the door was shut; everything was still. Sapt knocked
softly with his knuckles, but there was no answer from within. He
laid hold of the handle and turned it; the door opened, and the
passage lay dark and apparently empty before us.
"You stay here, as we arranged," whispered the colonel. "Give me
the matches, and I'll go in."
James handed him the box of matches, and he crossed the
threshold. For a yard or two we saw him plainly, then his figure
grew dim and indistinct. I heard nothing except my own hard
breathing. But in a moment there was another sound--a muffled
exclamation, and a noise of a man stumbling; a sword, too,
clattered on the stones of the passage. We looked at one another;
the noise did not produce any answering stir in the house; then
came the sharp little explosion of a match struck on its box;
next we heard Sapt raising himself, his scabbard scraping along
the stones; his footsteps came towards us, and in a second he
appeared at the door.
"What was it?" I whispered.
"I fell," said Sapt.
"Come and see. James, stay here."
I followed the constable for the distance of eight or ten feet
along the passage.
"Isn't there a lamp anywhere?" I asked.
"We can see enough with a match," he answered. "Here, this is
what I fell over."
Even before the match was struck I saw a dark body lying across
"A dead man?" I guessed instantly.
"Why, no," said Sapt, striking a light: "a dead dog, Fritz." An
exclamation of wonder escaped me as I fell on my knees. At the
same instant Sapt muttered, "Ay, there's a lamp," and, stretching
up his hand to a little oil lamp that stood on a bracket, he lit
it, took it down, and held it over the body. It served to give a
fair, though unsteady, light, and enabled us to see what lay in
"It's Boris, the boar-hound," said I, still in a whisper,
although there was no sign of any listeners.
I knew the dog well; he was the king's favorite, and always
accompanied him when he went hunting. He was obedient to every
word of the king's, but of a rather uncertain temper towards the
rest of the world. However, de mortuis nil nisi bonum; there he
lay dead in the passage. Sapt put his hand on the beast's head.
There was a bullet-hole right through his forehead. I nodded, and
in my turn pointed to the dog's right shoulder, which was
shattered by another ball.
"And see here," said the constable. "Have a pull at this."
I looked where his hand now was. In the dog's mouth was a piece
of gray cloth, and on the piece of gray cloth was a horn
coat-button. I took hold of the cloth and pulled. Boris held on
even in death. Sapt drew his sword, and, inserting the point of
it between the dog's teeth, parted them enough for me to draw out
the piece of cloth.
"You'd better put it in your pocket," said the constable. "Now
come along"; and, holding the lamp in one hand and his sword
(which he did not resheathe) in the other, he stepped over the
body of the boar-hound, and I followed him.
We were now in front of the door of the room where Rudolf
Rassendyll had supped with us on the day of his first coming to
Ruritania, and whence he had set out to be crowned in Strelsau.
On the right of it was the room where the king slept, and farther
along in the same direction the kitchen and the cellars. The
officer or officers in attendance on the king used to sleep on
the other side of the dining-room.
"We must explore, I suppose," said Sapt. In spite of his outward
calmness, I caught in his voice the ring of excitement rising and
ill-repressed. But at this moment we heard from the passage on
our left (as we faced the door) a low moan, and then a dragging
sound, as if a man were crawling along the floor, painfully
trailing his limbs after him. Sapt held the lamp in that
direction, and we saw Herbert the forester, pale-faced and
wide-eyed, raised from the ground on his two hands, while his
legs stretched behind him and his stomach rested on the flags.
"Who is it?" he said in a faint voice.
"Why, man, you know us," said the constable, stepping up to him.
"What's happened here?"
The poor fellow was very faint, and, I think, wandered a little
in his brain.
"I've got it, sir," he murmured; "I've got it, fair and straight.
No more hunting for me, sir. I've got it here in the stomach. Oh,
my God!" He let his head fall with a thud on the floor.
I ran and raised him. Kneeling on one knee, I propped his head
against my leg.
"Tell us about it," commanded Sapt in a curt, crisp voice while I
got the man into the easiest position that I could contrive.
In slow, struggling tones he began his story, repeating here,
omitting there, often confusing the order of his narrative,
oftener still arresting it while he waited for fresh strength.
Yet we were not impatient, but heard without a thought of time. I
looked round once at a sound, and found that James, anxious about
us, had stolen along the passage and joined us. Sapt took no
notice of him, nor of anything save the words that dropped in
irregular utterance from the stricken man's lips. Here is the
story, a strange instance of the turning of a great event on a
The king had eaten a little supper, and, having gone to his
bedroom, had stretched himself on the bed and fallen asleep
without undressing. Herbert was clearing the dining-table and
performing similar duties, when suddenly (thus he told it) he
found a man standing beside him. He did not know (he was new to
the king's service) who the unexpected visitor was, but he was of
middle height, dark, handsome, and "looked a gentleman all over."
He was dressed in a shooting-tunic, and a revolver was thrust
through the belt of it. One hand rested on the belt, while the
other held a small square box.
"Tell the king I am here. He expects me," said the stranger.
Herbert, alarmed at the suddenness and silence of the stranger's
approach, and guiltily conscious of having left the door
unbolted, drew back. He was unarmed, but, being a stout fellow,
was prepared to defend his master as best he could.
Rupert--beyond doubt it was Rupert--laughed lightly, saying
again, "Man, he expects me. Go and tell him," and sat himself on
the table, swinging his leg. Herbert, influenced by the visitor's
air of command, began to retreat towards the bedroom, keeping his
face towards Rupert.
"If the king asks more, tell him I have the packet and the
letter," said Rupert. The man bowed and passed into the bedroom.
The king was asleep; when roused he seemed to know nothing of
letter or packet, and to expect no visitor. Herbert's ready fears
revived; he whispered that the stranger carried a revolver.
Whatever the king's faults might be--and God forbid that I should
speak hardly of him whom fate used so hardly--he was no coward.
He sprang from his bed; at the same moment the great boar-hound
uncoiled himself and came from beneath, yawning and fawning. But
in an instant the beast caught the scent of a stranger: his ears
pricked and he gave a low growl, as he looked up in his master's
face. Then Rupert of Hentzau, weary perhaps of waiting, perhaps
only doubtful whether his message would be properly delivered,
appeared in the doorway.
The king was unarmed, and Herbert in no better plight; their
hunting weapons were in the adjoining room, and Rupert seemed to
bar the way. I have said that the king was no coward, yet I
think, that the sight of Rupert, bringing back the memory of his
torments in the dungeon, half cowed him; for he shrank back
crying, "You!" The hound, in subtle understanding of his master's
movement, growled angrily.
"You expected me, sire?" said Rupert with a bow; but he smiled. I
know that the sight of the king's alarm pleased him. To inspire
terror was his delight, and it does not come to every man to
strike fear into the heart of a king and an Elphberg. It had come
more than once to Rupert of Hentzau.
"No," muttered the king. Then, recovering his composure a little,
he said angrily, "How dare you come here?"
"You didn't expect me?" cried Rupert, and in an instant the
thought of a trap seemed to flash across his alert mind. He drew
the revolver halfway from his belt, probably in a scarcely
conscious movement, born of the desire to assure himself of its
presence. With a cry of alarm Herbert flung himself before the
king, who sank back on the bed. Rupert, puzzled, vexed, yet
half-amused (for he smiled still, the man said), took a step
forward, crying out something about Rischenheim--what, Herbert
could not tell us.
"Keep back," exclaimed the king. "Keep back."
Rupert paused; then, as though with a sudden thought, he held up
the box that was in his left hand, saying:
'"Well, look at this sire, and we'll talk afterwards," and he
stretched out his hand with the box in it.
Now the king stood on a razor's edge, for the king whispered to
Herbert, "What is it? Go and take it."
But Herbert hesitated, fearing to leave the king, whom his body
now protected as though with a shield. Rupert's impatience
overcame him: if there were a trap, every moment's delay doubled
his danger. With a scornful laugh he exclaimed, "Catch it, then,
if you're afraid to come for it," and he flung the packet to
Herbert or the king, or which of them might chance to catch it.
This insolence had a strange result. In an instant, with a fierce
growl and a mighty bound, Boris was at the stranger's throat.
Rupert had not seen or had not heeded the dog. A startled oath
rang out from him. He snatched the revolver from his belt and
fired at his assailant. This shot must have broken the beast's
shoulder, but it only half arrested his spring. His great weight
was still hurled on Rupert's chest, and bore him back on his
knee. The packet that he had flung lay unheeded. The king, wild
with alarm and furious with anger at his favorite's fate, jumped
up and ran past Rupert into the next room. Herbert followed; even
as they went Rupert flung the wounded, weakened beast from him
and darted to the doorway. He found himself facing Herbert, who
held a boar-spear, and the king, who had a double-barreled
hunting-gun. He raised his left hand, Herbert said--no doubt he
still asked a hearing--but the king leveled his weapon. With a
spring Rupert gained the shelter of the door, the bullet sped by
him, and buried itself in the wall of the room. Then Herbert was
at him with the boar-spear. Explanations must wait now: it was
life or death; without hesitation Rupert fired at Herbert,
bringing him to the ground with a mortal wound. The king's gun
was at his shoulder again.
"You damned fool!" roared Rupert, "if you must have it, take it,"
and gun and revolver rang out at the same moment. But
Rupert--never did his nerve fail him--hit, the king missed;
Herbert saw the count stand for an instant with his smoking
barrel in his hand, looking at the king, who lay on the ground.
Then Rupert walked towards the door. I wish I had seen his face
then! Did he frown or smile? Was triumph or chagrin uppermost?
Remorse? Not he!
He reached the door and passed through. That was the last Herbert
saw of him; but the fourth actor in the drama, the wordless
player whose part had been so momentous, took the stage. Limping
along, now whining in sharp agony, now growling in fierce anger,
with blood flowing but hair bristling, the hound Boris dragged
himself across the room, through the door, after Rupert of
Hentzau. Herbert listened, raising his head from the ground.
There was a growl, an oath, the sound of the scuffle. Rupert must
have turned in time to receive the dog's spring. The beast,
maimed and crippled by his shattered shoulder, did not reach his
enemy's face, but his teeth tore away the bit of cloth that we
had found held in the vise of his jaws. Then came another shot, a
laugh, retreating steps, and a door slammed. With that last sound
Herbert woke to the fact of the count's escape; with weary
efforts he dragged himself into the passage. The idea that he
could go on if he got a drink of brandy turned him in the
direction of the cellar. But his strength failed, and he sank
down where we found him, not knowing whether the king were dead
or still alive, and unable even to make his way back to the room
where his master lay stretched on the ground.
I had listened to the story, bound as though by a spell. Halfway
through, James's hand had crept to my arm and rested there; when
Herbert finished I heard the little man licking his lips, again
and again slapping his tongue against them. Then I looked at
Sapt. He was as pale as a ghost, and the lines on his face seemed
to have grown deeper. He glanced up, and met my regard. Neither
of us spoke; we exchanged thoughts with our eyes. "This is our
work," we said to one another. "It was our trap, these are our
victims." I cannot even now think of that hour, for by our act
the king lay dead.
But was he dead? I seized Sapt by the arm. His glance questioned
"The king," I whispered hoarsely.
"Yes, the king," he returned.
Facing round, we walked to the door of the dining-room. Here I
turned suddenly faint, and clutched at the constable. He held me
up, and pushed the door wide open. The smell of powder was in the
room; it seemed as if the smoke hung about, curling in dim coils
round the chandelier which gave a subdued light. James had the
lamp now, and followed us with it. But the king was not there. A
sudden hope filled me. He had not been killed then! I regained
strength, and darted across towards the inside room. Here too the
light was dim, and I turned to beckon for the lamp. Sapt and
James came together, and stood peering over my shoulder in the
The king lay prone on the floor, face downwards, near the bed. He
had crawled there, seeking for some place to rest, as we
supposed. He did not move. We watched him for a moment; the
silence seemed deeper than silence could be. At last, moved by a
common impulse, we stepped forward, but timidly, as though we
approached the throne of Death himself. I was the first to kneel
by the king and raise his head. Blood had flowed from his lips,
but it had ceased to flow now. He was dead.
I felt Sapt's hand on my shoulder. Looking up, I saw his other
hand stretched out towards the ground. I turned my eyes where he
pointed. There, in the king's hand, stained with the king'sblood,
was the box that I had carried to Wintenberg and Rupert of
Hentzau had brought to the lodge that night. It was not rest, but
the box that the dying king had sought in his last moment. I