Part 3 out of 6
bent, and lifting his hand unclasped the fingers, still limp and
Sapt bent down with sudden eagerness. "Is it open?" he whispered.
The string was round it; the sealing-wax was unbroken. The secret
had outlived the king, and he had gone to his death unknowing.
All at once--I cannot tell why--I put my hand over my eyes; I
found my eyelashes were wet.
"Is it open?" asked Sapt again, for in the dim light he could not
"No," I answered.
"Thank God!" said he. And, for Sapt's, the voice was soft.
CHAPTER IX. THE KING IN THE HUNTING LODGE
THE moment with its shock and tumult of feeling brings one
judgment, later reflection another. Among the sins of Rupert of
Hentzau I do not assign the first and greatest place to his
killing of the king. It was, indeed, the act of a reckless man
who stood at nothing and held nothing sacred; but when I consider
Herbert's story, and trace how the deed came to be done and the
impulsion of circumstances that led to it, it seems to have been
in some sort thrust upon him by the same perverse fate that
dogged our steps. He had meant the king no harm--indeed it may
be argued that, from whatever motive, he had sought to serve
him--and save under the sudden stress of self-defense he had done
him none. The king's unlooked-for ignorance of his errand,
Herbert's honest hasty zeal, the temper of Boris the hound, had
forced on him an act unmeditated and utterly against his
interest. His whole guilt lay in preferring the king's death to
his own--a crime perhaps in most men, but hardly deserving a
place in Rupert's catalogue. All this I can admit now, but on
that night, with the dead body lying there before us, with the
story piteously told by Herbert's faltering voice fresh in our
ears, it was hard to allow any such extenuation. Our hearts cried
out for vengeance, although we ourselves served the king no more.
Nay, it may well be that we hoped to stifle some reproach of our
own consciences by a louder clamor against another's sin, or
longed to offer some belated empty atonement to our dead master
by executing swift justice on the man who had killed him. I
cannot tell fully what the others felt, but in me at least the
dominant impulse was to waste not a moment in proclaiming the
crime and raising the whole country in pursuit of Rupert, so that
every man in Ruritania should quit his work, his pleasure, or his
bed, and make it his concern to take the Count of Hentzau, alive
or dead. I remember that I walked over to where Sapt was sitting,
and caught him by the arm, saying:
"We must raise the alarm. If you'll go to Zenda, I'll start for
"The alarm?" said he, looking up at me and tugging his moustache.
"Yes: when the news is known, every man in the kingdom will be on
the lookout for him, and he can't escape."
"So that he'd be taken?" asked the constable.
"Yes, to a certainty," I cried, hot in excitement and emotion.
Sapt glanced across at Mr. Rassendyll's servant. James had, with
my help, raised the king's body on to the bed, and had aided the
wounded forester to reach a couch. He stood now near the
constable, in his usual unobtrusive readiness. He did not speak,
but I saw a look of understanding in his eyes as he nodded his
head to Colonel Sapt. They were well matched, that pair, hard to
move, hard to shake, not to be turned from the purpose in their
minds and the matter that lay to their hands.
"Yes, he'd probably be taken or killed," said Sapt.
"Then let's do it!" I cried.
"With the queen's letter on him," said Colonel Sapt.
I had forgotten.
"We have the box, he has the letter still," said Sapt.
I could have laughed even at that moment. He had left the box
(whether from haste or heedlessness or malice, we could not
tell), but the letter was on him. Taken alive, he would use that
powerful weapon to save his life or satisfy his anger; if it were
found on his body, its evidence would speak loud and clear to all
the world. Again he was protected by his crime: while he had the
letter, he must be kept inviolate from all attack except at our
own hands. We desired his death, but we must be his body-guard
and die in his defense rather than let any other but ourselves
come at him. No open means must be used, and no allies sought.
All this rushed to my mind at Sapt's words, and I saw what the
constable and James had never forgotten. But what to do I could
not see. For the King of Ruritania lay dead.
An hour or more had passed since our discovery, and it was now
close on midnight. Had all gone well we ought by this time to
have been far on our road back to the castle; by this time Rupert
must be miles away from where he had killed the king; already Mr.
Rassendyll would be seeking his enemy in Strelsau.
"But what are we to do about--about that, then?" I asked,
pointing with my finger through the doorway towards the bed.
Sapt gave a last tug at his moustache, then crossed his hands on
the hilt of the sword between his knees, and leant forward in his
"Nothing, he said," looking at my face. "Until we have the
"But it's impossible!" I cried.
"Why, no, Fritz," he answered thoughtfully. "It's not possible
yet; it may become so. But if we can catch Rupert in the next
day, or even in the next two days, it's not impossible. Only let
me have the letter, and I'll account for the concealment. What?
Is the fact that crimes are known never concealed, for fear of
putting the criminal on his guard?"
"You'll be able to make a story, sir," James put in, with a grave
but reassuring air.
"Yes, James, I shall be able to make a story, or your master will
make one for me. But, by God, story or no story, the letter
mustn't be found. Let them say we killed him ourselves if they
I seized his hand and gripped it.
"You don't doubt I'm with you?" I asked.
"Not for a moment, Fritz," he answered.
"Then how can we do it?"
We drew nearer together; Sapt and I sat, while James leant over
The oil in the lamp was almost exhausted, and the light burnt
very dim. Now and again poor Herbert, for whom our skill could do
nothing, gave a slight moan. I am ashamed to remember how little
we thought of him, but great schemes make the actors in them
careless of humanity; the life of a man goes for nothing against
a point in the game. Except for his groans--and they grew fainter
and less frequen--our voices alone broke the silence of the
"The queen must know," said Sapt. "Let her stay at Zenda and give
out that the king is at the lodge for a day or two longer. Then
you, Fritz--for you must ride to the castle at once--and
Bernenstein must get to Strelsau as quick as you can, and find
Rudolf Rassendyll. You three ought to be able to track young
Rupert down and get the letter from him. If he's not in the city,
you must catch Rischenheim, and force him to say where he is; we
know Rischenheim can be persuaded. If Rupert's there, I need give
no advice either to you or to Rudolf."
"James and I stay here. If any one comes whom we can keep out,
the king is ill. If rumors get about, and great folk come, why,
they must enter."
"But the body?"
"This morning, when you're gone, we shall make a temporary grave.
I dare say two," and he jerked his thumb towards poor Herbert.
"Or even," he added, with his grim smile, "three--for our friend
Boris, too, must be out of sight."
"You'll bury the king?"
"Not so deep but that we can take him out again, poor fellow.
Well, Fritz, have you a better plan?"
I had no plan, and I was not in love with Sapt's plan. Yet it
offered us four and twenty hours. For that time, at least, it
seemed as if the secret could be kept. Beyond that we could
hardly hope for success; after that we must produce the king;
dead or alive, the king must be seen. Yet it might be that before
the respite ran out Rupert would be ours. In fine, what else
could be chosen? For now a greater peril threatened than that
against which we had at the first sought to guard. Then the worst
we feared was that the letter should come to the king's hands.
That could never be. But it would be a worse thing if it were
found on Rupert, and all the kingdom, nay, all Europe, know that
it was written in the hand of her who was now, in her own right,
Queen of Ruritania. To save her from that, no chance was too
desperate, no scheme too perilous; yes, if, as Sapt said, we
ourselves were held to answer for the king's death, still we must
go on. I, through whose negligence the whole train of disaster
had been laid, was the last man to hesitate. In all honesty, I
held my life due and forfeit, should it be demanded of me--my
life and, before the world, my honor.
So the plan was made. A grave was to be dug ready for the king;
if need arose, his body should be laid in it, and the place
chosen was under the floor of the wine-cellar. When death came
to poor Herbert, he could lie in the yard behind the house; for
Boris they meditated a resting-place under the tree where our
horses were tethered. There was nothing to keep me, and I rose;
but as I rose, I heard the forester's voice call plaintively for
me. The unlucky fellow knew me well, and now cried to me to sit
by him. I think Sapt wanted me to leave him, but I could not
refuse his last request, even though it consumed some precious
minutes. He was very near his end, and, sitting by him, I did my
best to soothe his passing. His fortitude was good to see, and I
believe that we all at last found new courage for our enterprise
from seeing how this humble man met death. At least even the
constable ceased to show impatience, and let me stay till I could
close the sufferer's eyes.
But thus time went, and it was nearly five in the morning before
I bade them farewell and mounted my horse. They took theirs and
led them away to the stables behind the lodge; I waved my hand
and galloped off on my return to the castle. Day was dawning, and
the air was fresh and pure. The new light brought new hope; fears
seemed to vanish before it; my nerves were strung to effort and
to confidence. My horse moved freely under me and carried me
easily along the grassy avenues. It was hard then to be utterly
despondent, hard to doubt skill of brain, strength of hand, or
The castle came in sight, and I hailed it with a glad cry that
echoed among the trees. But a moment later I gave an exclamation
of surprise, and raised myself a little from the saddle while I
gazed earnestly at the summit of the keep. The flag staff was
naked; the royal standard that had flapped in the wind last night
was gone. But by immemorial custom the flag flew on the keep when
the king or the queen was at the castle. It would fly for Rudolf
V. no more; but why did it not proclaim and honor the presence of
Queen Flavia? I sat down in my saddle and spurred my horse to the
top of his speed. We had been buffeted by fate sorely, but now I
feared yet another blow.
In a quarter of an hour more I was at the door. A servant ran
out, and I dismounted leisurely and easily. Pulling off my
gloves, I dusted my boots with them, turned to the stableman and
bade him look to the horse, and then said to the footman:
"As soon as the queen is dressed, find out if she can see me. I
have a message from his Majesty."
The fellow looked a little puzzled, but at this moment Hermann,
the king's major-domo, came to the door.
"Isn't the constable with you, my lord?" he asked.
"No, the constable remains at the lodge with the king," said I
carelessly, though I was very far from careless. "I have a
message for her Majesty, Hermann. Find out from some of the women
when she will receive me."
"The queen's not here," said he. "Indeed we've had a lively time,
my lord. At five o'clock she came out, ready dressed, from her
room, sent for Lieutenant von Bernenstein, and announced that she
was about to set out from the castle. As you know, the mail train
passes here at six." Hermann took out his watch. "Yes, the queen
must just have left the station."
"Where for?" I asked, with a shrug for the woman's whim. "Why,
for Strelsau. She gave no reasons for going, and took with her
only one lady, Lieutenant von Bernenstein being in attendance. It
was a bustle, if you like, with everybody to be roused and got
out of bed, and a carriage to be made ready, and messages to go
to the station, and--"
"She gave no reasons?"
"None, my lord. She left with me a letter to the constable, which
she ordered me to give to his own hands as soon as he arrived at
the castle. She said it contained a message of importance, which
the constable was to convey to the king, and that it must be
intrusted to nobody except Colonel Sapt himself. I wonder, my
lord, that you didn't notice that the flag was hauled down."
"Tut, man, I wasn't staring at the keep. Give me the letter." For
I saw that the clue to this fresh puzzle must lie under the cover
of Sapt's letter. That letter I must myself carry to Sapt, and
without loss of time.
"Give you the letter, my lord? But, pardon me, you're not the
constable." He laughed a little.
"Why, no," said I, mustering a smile. "It's true that I'm not the
constable, but I'm going to the constable. I had the king's
orders to rejoin him as soon as I had seen the queen, and since
her Majesty isn't here, I shall return to the lodge directly a
fresh horse can be saddled for me. And the constable's at the
lodge. Come, the letter!"
"I can't give it you, my lord. Her Majesty's orders were
"Nonsense! If she had known I should come and not the constable,
she would have told me to carry it to him."
"I don't know about that, my lord: her orders were plain, and she
doesn't like being disobeyed."
The stableman had led the horse away, the footman had
disappeared, Hermann and I were alone. "Give me the letter," I
said; and I know that my self-control failed, and eagerness was
plain in my voice. Plain it was, and Hermann took alarm. He
started back, clapping his hand to the breast of his laced coat.
The gesture betrayed where the letter was; I was past prudence; I
sprang on him and wrenched his hand away, catching him by the
throat with my other hand. Diving into his pocket, I got the
letter. Then I suddenly loosed hold of him, for his eyes were
starting out of his head. I took out a couple of gold pieces and
gave them to him.
"It's urgent, you fool," said I. "Hold your tongue about it." And
without waiting to study his amazed red face, I turned and ran
towards the stable. In five minutes I was on a fresh horse, in
six I was clear of the castle, heading back fast as I could go
for the hunting-lodge. Even now Hermann remembers the grip I gave
him--though doubtless he has long spent the pieces of gold.
When I reached the end of this second journey, I came in for the
obsequies of Boris. James was just patting the ground under the
tree with a mattock when I rode up; Sapt was standing by, smoking
his pipe. The boots of both were stained and sticky with mud. I
flung myself from my saddle and blurted out my news. The
constable snatched at his letter with an oath; James leveled the
ground with careful accuracy; I do not remember doing anything
except wiping my forehead and feeling very hungry.
"Good Lord, she's gone after him!" said Sapt, as he read. Then he
handed me the letter.
I will not set out what the queen wrote. The purport seemed to
us, who did not share her feelings, pathetic indeed and moving,
but in the end (to speak plainly) folly. She had tried to endure
her sojourn at Zenda, she said; but it drove her mad. She could
not rest; she did not know how we fared, nor how those in
Strelsau; for hours she had lain awake; then at last falling
asleep, she had dreamt.
"I had had the same dream before. Now it came again. I saw him so
plain. He seemed to me to be king, and to be called king. But he
did not answer nor move. He seemed dead; and I could not rest."
So she wrote, ever excusing herself, ever repeating how something
drew her to Strelsau, telling her that she must go if she would
see "him whom you know," alive again. "And I must see him--ah, I
must see him! If the king has had the letter, I am ruined
already. If he has not, tell him what you will or what you can
contrive. I must go. It came a second time, and all so plain. I
saw him; I tell you I saw him. Ah, I must see him again. I swear
that I will only see him once. He's in danger--I know he's in
danger; or what does the dream mean? Bernenstein will go with me,
and I shall see him. Do, do forgive me: I can't stay, the dream
was so plain." Thus she ended, seeming, poor lady, half frantic
with the visions that her own troubled brain and desolate heart
had conjured up to torment her. I did not know that she had
before told Mr. Rassendyll himself of this strange dream; though
I lay small store by such matters, believing that we ourselves
make our dreams, fashioning out of the fears and hopes of to-day
what seems to come by night in the guise of a mysterious
revelation. Yet there are some things that a man cannot
understand, and I do not profess to measure with my mind the ways
However, not why the queen went, but that she had gone, concerned
us. We had returned to the house now, and James, remembering that
men must eat though kings die, was getting us some breakfast. In
fact, I had great need of food, being utterly worn out; and they,
after their labors, were hardly less weary. As we ate, we talked;
and it was plain to us that I also must go to Strelsau. There, in
the city, the drama must be played out. There was Rudolf, there
Rischenheim, there in all likelihood Rupert of Hentzau, there now
the queen. And of these Rupert alone, or perhaps Rischenheim
also, knew that the king was dead, and how the issue of last
night had shaped itself under the compelling hand of wayward
fortune. The king lay in peace on his bed, his grave was dug;
Sapt and James held the secret with solemn faith and ready lives.
To Strelsau I must go to tell the queen that she was widowed, and
to aim the stroke at young Rupert's heart.
At nine in the morning I started from the lodge. I was bound to
ride to Hofbau and there wait for a train which would carry me to
the capital. From Hofbau I could send a message, but the message
must announce only my own coming, not the news I carried. To
Sapt, thanks to the cipher, I could send word at any time, and he
bade me ask Mr. Rassendyll whether he should come to our aid, or
stay where he was.
"A day must decide the whole thing," he said. "We can't conceal
the king's death long. For God's sake, Fritz, make an end of that
young villain, and get the letter."
So, wasting no time in farewells, I set out. By ten o'clock I was
at Hofbau, for I rode furiously. From there I sent to Bernenstein
at the palace word of my coming. But there I was delayed. There
was no train for an hour.
"I'll ride," I cried to myself, only to remember the next moment
that, if I rode, I should come to my journey's end much later.
There was nothing for it but to wait, and it may be imagined in
what mood I waited. Every minute seemed an hour, and I know not
to this day how the hour wore itself away. I ate, I drank, I
smoked, I walked, sat, and stood. The stationmaster knew me, and
thought I had gone mad, till I told him that I carried most
important despatches from the king, and that the delay imperiled
great interests. Then he became sympathetic; but what could he
do? No special train was to be had at a roadside station: I must
wait; and wait, somehow, and without blowing my brains out, I
At last I was in the train; now indeed we moved, and I came
nearer. An hour's run brought me in sight of the city. Then, to
my unutterable wrath, we were stopped, and waited motionless
twenty minutes or half an hour. At last we started again; had we
not, I should have jumped out and run, for to sit longer would
have driven me mad. Now we entered the station. With a great
effort I calmed myself. I lolled back in my seat; when we stopped
I sat there till a porter opened the door. In lazy leisureliness
I bade him get me a cab, and followed him across the station. He
held the door for me, and, giving him his douceur, I set my foot
on the step.
"Tell him to drive to the palace," said I, "and be quick. I'm
late already, thanks to this cursed train."
"The old mare'll soon take you there, sir," said the driver. I
jumped in. But at this moment I saw a man on the platform
beckoning with his hand and hastening towards me. The cabman also
saw him and waited. I dared not tell him to drive on, for I
feared to betray any undue haste, and it would have looked
strange not to spare a moment to my wife's cousin, Anton von
Strofzin. He came up, holding out his hand,delicately gloved in
pearl-gray kid, for young Anton was a leader of the Strelsau
"Ah, my dear Fritz!" said he. "I am glad I hold no appointment at
court. How dreadfully active you all are! I thought you were
settled at Zenda for a month?"
"The queen changed her mind suddenly," said I, smiling. "Ladies
do, as you know well, you who know all about them."
My compliment, or insinuation, produced a pleased smile and a
gallant twirling of his moustache.
"Well, I thought you'd be here soon," he said, "but I didn't know
that the queen had come."
"You didn't? Then why did you look for me?"
He opened his eyes a little in languid, elegant surprise. "Oh, I
supposed you'd be on duty, or something, and have to come. Aren't
you in attendance?"
"On the queen? No, not just now."
"But on the king?"
"Why, yes," said I, and I leaned forward. "At least I'm engaged
now on the king's business."
"Precisely," said he. "So I thought you'd come, as soon as I
heard that the king was here."
It may be that I ought to have preserved my composure. But I am
not Sapt nor Rudolf Rassendyll.
"The king here?" I gasped, clutching him by the arm.
"Of course. You didn't know? Yes, he's in town."
But I heeded him no more. For a moment I could not speak, then I
cried to the cabman:
"To the palace. And drive like the devil!"
We shot away, leaving Anton open-mouthed in wonder. For me, I
sank back on the cushions, fairly aghast. The king lay dead in
the hunting-lodge, but the king was in his capital!
Of course, the truth soon flashed through my mind, but it brought
no comfort. Rudolf Rassendyll was in Strelsau. He had been seen
by somebody and taken for the king. But comfort? What comfort was
there, now that the king was dead and could never come to the
rescue of his counterfeit?
In fact, the truth was worse than I conceived. Had I known it
all, I might well have yielded to despair. For not by the chance,
uncertain sight of a passer-by, not by mere rumor which might
have been sturdily denied, not by the evidence of one only or of
two, was the king's presence in the city known. That day, by the
witness of a crowd of people, by his own claim and his own voice,
ay, and by the assent of the queen herself, Mr. Rassendyll was
taken to be the king in Strelsau, while neither he nor Queen
Flavia knew that the king was dead. I must now relate the strange
and perverse succession of events which forced them to employ a
resource so dangerous and face a peril so immense. Yet, great and
perilous as they knew the risk to be even when they dared it, in
the light of what they did not know it was more fearful and more
CHAPTER X. THE KING IN STRELSAU
MR. RASSENDYLL reached Strelsau from Zenda without accident about
nine o'clock in the evening of the same day as that which
witnessed the tragedy of the hunting-lodge. He could have arrived
sooner, but prudence did not allow him to enter the populous
suburbs of the town till the darkness guarded him from notice.
The gates of the city were no longer shut at sunset, as they had
used to be in the days when Duke Michael was governor, and Rudolf
passed them without difficulty. Fortunately the night, fine where
we were, was wet and stormy at Strelsau; thus there were few
people in the streets, and he was able to gain the door of my
house still unremarked. Here, of course, a danger presented
itself. None of my servants were in the secret; only my wife, in
whom the queen herself had confided, knew Rudolf, and she did not
expect to see him, since she was ignorant of the recent course of
events. Rudolf was quite alive to the peril, and regretted the
absence of his faithful attendant, who could have cleared the way
for him. The pouring rain gave him an excuse for twisting a scarf
about his face and pulling his coat-collar up to his ears, while
the gusts of wind made the cramming of his hat low down over his
eyes no more than a natural precaution against its loss. Thus
masked from curious eyes, he drew rein before my door, and,
having dismounted, rang the bell. When the butler came a strange
hoarse voice, half-stifled by folds of scarf, asked for the
countess, alleging for pretext a message from myself. The man
hesitated, as well he might, to leave the stranger alone with the
door open and the contents of the hall at his mercy. Murmuring an
apology in case his visitor should prove to be a gentleman, he
shut the door and went in search of his mistress. His description
of the untimely caller at once roused my wife's quick wit; she
had heard from me how Rudolf had ridden once from Strelsau to the
hunting-lodge with muffled face; a very tall man with his face
wrapped in a scarf and his hat over his eyes, who came with a
private message, suggested to her at least a possibility of Mr.
Rassendyll's arrival. Helga will never admit that she is clever,
yet I find she discovers from me what she wants to know, and I
suspect hides successfully the small matters of which she in her
wifely discretion deems I had best remain ignorant. Being able
thus to manage me, she was equal to coping with the butler. She
laid aside her embroidery most composedly.
"Ah, yes," she said, "I know the gentleman. Surely you haven't
left him out in the rain?" She was anxious lest Rudolf's features
should have been exposed too long to the light of the hall-lamps.
The butler stammered an apology, explaining his fears for our
goods and the impossibility of distinguishing social rank on a
dark night. Helga cut him short with an impatient gesture,
crying, "How stupid of you!" and herself ran quickly down and
opened the door--a little way only, though. The first sight of
Mr. Rassendyll confirmed her suspicions; in a moment, she said,
she knew his eyes.
"It is you, then?" she cried. "And my foolish servant has left
you in the rain! Pray come in. Oh, but your horse!" She turned to
the penitent butler, who had followed her downstairs. "Take the
baron's horse round to the stables," she said.
"I will send some one at once, my lady."
"No, no, take it yourself--take it at once. I'll look after the
Reluctantly and ruefully the fat fellow stepped out into the
storm. Rudolf drew back and let him pass, then he entered
quickly, to find himself alone with Helga in the hall. With a
finger on her lips, she led him swiftly into a small sitting-room
on the ground floor, which I used as a sort of office or place of
business. It looked out on the street, and the rain could be
heard driving against the broad panes of the window. Rudolf
turned to her with a smile, and, bowing, kissed her hand.
"The baron what, my dear countess?" he inquired.
"He won't ask," said she with a shrug. "Do tell me what brings
you here, and what has happened."
He told her very briefly all he knew. She hid bravely her alarm
at hearing that I might perhaps meet Rupert at the lodge, and at
once listened to what Rudolf wanted of her.
"Can I get out of the house, and, if need be, back again
unnoticed?" he asked.
"The door is locked at night, and only Fritz and the butler have
Mr. Rassendyll's eye traveled to the window of the room.
"I haven't grown so fat that I can't get through there," said he.
"So we'd better not trouble the butler. He'd talk, you know."
"I will sit here all night and keep everybody from the room."
"I may come back pursued if I bungle my work and an alarm is
"Your work?" she asked, shrinking back a little.
"Yes," said he. "Don't ask what it is, Countess. It is in the
"For the queen I will do anything and everything, as Fritz
He took her hand and pressed it in a friendly, encouraging way.
"Then I may issue my orders?" he asked, smiling.
"They shall be obeyed."
"Then a dry cloak, a little supper, and this room to myself,
except for you."
As he spoke the butler turned the handle of the door. My wife
flew across the room, opened the door, and, while Rudolf turned
his back, directed the man to bring some cold meat, or whatever
could be ready with as little delay as possible.
"Now come with me," she said to Rudolf, directly the servant was
She took him to my dressing-room, where he got dry clothes; then
she saw the supper laid, ordered a bedroom to be prepared, told
the butler that she had business with the baron and that he need
not sit up if she were later than eleven, dismissed him, and went
to tell Rudolf that the coast was clear for his return to the
sitting-room. He came, expressing admiration for her courage and
address; I take leave to think that she deserved his compliments.
He made a hasty supper; then they talked together, Rudolf smoking
his cigar. Eleven came and went. It was not yet time. My wife
opened the door and looked out. The hall was dark, the door
locked and its key in the hands of the butler. She closed the
door again and softly locked it. As the clock struck twelve
Rudolf rose and turned the lamp very low. Then he unfastened the
shutters noiselessly, raised the window and looked out.
"Shut them again when I'm gone," he whispered. "If I come back,
I'll knock like this, and you'll open for me."
"For heaven's sake, be careful," she murmured, catching at his
He nodded reassuringly, and crossing his leg over the windowsill,
sat there for a moment listening. The storm was as fierce as
ever, and the street was deserted. He let himself down on to the
pavement, his face again wrapped up. She watched his tall figure
stride quickly along till a turn of the road hid it. Then, having
closed the window and the shutters again, she sat down to keep
her watch, praying for him, for me, and for her dear mistress the
queen. For she knew that perilous work was afoot that night, and
did not know whom it might threaten or whom destroy.
From the moment that Mr. Rassendyll thus left my house at
midnight on his search for Rupert of Hentzau, every hour and
almost every moment brought its incident in the swiftly moving
drama which decided the issues of our fortune. What we were doing
has been told; by now Rupert himself was on his way back to the
city, and the queen was meditating, in her restless vigil, on the
resolve that in a few hours was to bring her also to Strelsau.
Even in the dead of night both sides were active. For, plan
cautiously and skillfully as he might, Rudolf fought with an
antagonist who lost no chances, and who had found an apt and
useful tool in that same Bauer, a rascal, and a cunning rascal,
if ever one were bred in the world. From the beginning even to
the end our error lay in taking too little count of this fellow,
and dear was the price we paid.
Both to my wife and to Rudolf himself the street had seemed empty
of every living being when she watched and he set out. Yet
everything had been seen, from his first arrival to the moment
when she closed the window after him. At either end of my house
there runs out a projection, formed by the bay windows of the
principal drawing-room and of the dining room respectively. These
projecting walls form shadows, and in the shade of one of
them--of which I do not know, nor is it of moment--a man watched
all that passed; had he been anywhere else, Rudolf must have seen
him. If we had not been too engrossed in playing our own hands,
it would doubtless have struck us as probable that Rupert would
direct Rischenheim and Bauer to keep an eye on my house during
his absence; for it was there that any of us who found our way to
the city would naturally resort in the first instance. As a fact,
he had not omitted this precaution. The night was so dark that
the spy, who had seen the king but once and never Mr. Rassendyll,
did not recognize who the visitor was, but he rightly conceived
that he should serve his employer by tracking the steps of the
tall man who made so mysterious an arrival and so surreptitious a
departure from the suspected house. Accordingly, as Rudolf turned
the corner and Helena closed the window, a short, thickset figure
started cautiously out of the projecting shadow, and followed in
Rudolf's wake through the storm. The pair, tracker and tracked,
met nobody, save here and there a police constable keeping a most
unwilling beat. Even such were few, and for the most part more
intent on sheltering in the lee of a friendly wall and thereby
keeping a dry stitch or two on them than on taking note of
passers-by. On the pair went. Now Rudolf turned into the
Konigstrasse. As he did so, Bauer, who must have been nearly a
hundred yards behind (for he could not start till the shutters
were closed) quickened his pace and reduced the interval between
them to about seventy yards. This he might well have thought a
safe distance on a night so wild, when the rush of wind and the
pelt of the rain joined to hide the sound of footsteps.
But Bauer reasoned as a townsman, and Rudolf Rassendyll had the
quick ear of a man bred in the country and trained to the
woodland. All at once there was a jerk of his head; I know so
well the motion which marked awakened attention in him. He did
not pause nor break his stride: to do either would have been to
betray his suspicions to his follower; but he crossed the road to
the opposite side to that where No. 19 was situated, and
slackened his pace a little, so that there was a longer interval
between his own footfalls. The steps behind him grew slower, even
as his did; their sound came no nearer: the follower would not
overtake. Now, a man who loiters on such a night, just because
another head of him is fool enough to loiter, has a reason for
his action other than what can at first sight be detected. So
thought Rudolf Rassendyll, and his brain was busied with finding
Then an idea seized him, and, forgetting the precautions that had
hitherto served so well, he came to a sudden stop on the
pavement, engrossed in deep thought. Was the man who dogged his
steps Rupert himself? It would be like Rupert to track him, like
Rupert to conceive such an attack, like Rupert to be ready either
for a fearless assault from the front or a shameless shot from
behind, and indifferent utterly which chance offered, so it threw
him one of them. Mr. Rassendyll asked no better than to meet his
enemy thus in the open. They could fight a fair fight, and if he
fell the lamp would be caught up and carried on by Sapt's hand or
mine; if he got the better of Rupert, the letter would be his; a
moment would destroy it and give safety to the queen. I do not
suppose that he spent time in thinking how he should escape
arrest at the hands of the police whom the fracas would probably
rouse; if he did, he may well have reckoned on declaring plainly
who he was, of laughing at their surprise over a chance likeness
to the king, and of trusting to us to smuggle him beyond the arm
of the law. What mattered all that, so that there was a moment in
which to destroy the letter? At any rate he turned full round and
began to walk straight towards Bauer, his hand resting on the
revolver in the pocket of his coat.
Bauer saw him coming, and must have known that he was suspected
or detected. At once the cunning fellow slouched his head between
his shoulders, and set out along the street at a quick shuffle,
whistling as he went. Rudolf stood still now in the middle of the
road, wondering who the man was: whether Rupert, purposely
disguising his gait, or a confederate, or, after all, some person
innocent of our secret and indifferent to our schemes. On came
Bauer, softly, whistling and slushing his feet carelessly through
the liquid mud. Now he was nearly opposite where Mr. Rassendyll
stood. Rudolf was well-nigh convinced that the man had been on
his track: he would make certainty surer. The bold game was
always his choice and his delight; this trait he shared with
Rupert of Hentzau, and hence arose, I think, the strange secret
inclination he had for his unscrupulous opponent. Now he walked
suddenly across to Bauer, and spoke to him in his natural voice,
at the same time removing the scarf partly, but not altogether,
from his face.
"You're out late, my friend, for a night like this."
Bauer, startled though he was by the unexpected challenge, had
his wits about him. Whether he identified Rudolf at once, I do
not know; I think that he must at least have suspected the truth.
"A lad that has no home to go to must needs be out both late and
early, sir," said he, arresting his shuffling steps, and looking
up with that honest stolid air which had made a fool of me.
I had described him very minutely to Mr. Rassendyll; if Bauer
knew or guessed who his challenger was, Mr. Rassendyll was as
well equipped for the encounter.
"No home to go to!" cried Rudolf in a pitying tone. "How's that?
But anyhow, Heaven forbid that you or any man should walk the
streets a night like this. Come, I'll give you a bed. Come with
me, and I'll find you good shelter, my boy."
Bauer shrank away. He did not see the meaning of this stroke, and
his eye, traveling up the street, showed that his thoughts had
turned towards flight. Rudolf gave no time for putting any such
notion into effect. Maintaining his air of genial compassion, he
passed his left arm through Bauer's right, saying:
"I'm a Christian man, and a bed you shall have this night, my
lad, as sure as I'm alive. Come along with me. The devil, it's
not weather for standing still!"
The carrying of arms in Strelsau was forbidden. Bauer had no wish
to get into trouble with the police, and, moreover, he had
intended nothing but a reconnaissance; he was therefore without
any weapon, and he was a child in Rudolf's grasp. He had no
alternative but to obey the suasion of Mr. Rassendyll's arm, and
they two began to walk down the Konigstrasse. Bauer's whistle
had died away, not to return; but from time to time Rudolf hummed
softly a cheerful tune, his fingers beating time on Bauer's
captive arm. Presently they crossed the road. Bauer's lagging
steps indicated that he took no pleasure in the change of side,
but he could not resist.
"Ay, you shall go where I am going, my lad," said Rudolf
encouragingly; and he laughed a little as he looked down at the
Along they went; soon they came to the small numbers at the
station end of the Konigstrasse. Rudolf began to peer up at the
"It's cursed dark," said he. "Pray, lad, can you make out which
The moment he had spoken the smile broadened on his face. The
shot had gone home. Bauer was a clever scoundrel, but his nerves
were not under perfect control, and his arm had quivered under
"Nineteen, sir?" he stammered.
"Ay, nineteen. That's where we're bound for, you and I. There I
hope we shall find--what we want."
Bauer seemed bewildered: no doubt he was at a loss how either to
understand or to parry the bold attack.
"Ah, this looks like it," said Rudolf, in a tone of great
satisfaction, as they came to old Mother Holf's little shop.
"Isn't that a one and a nine over the door, my lad? Ah, and Holf!
Yes, that's the name. Pray ring the bell. My hands are occupied."
Rudolf's hands were indeed occupied; one held Bauer's arm, now no
longer with a friendly pressure, but with a grip of iron; in the
other the captive saw the revolver that had till now lain hidden.
"You see?" asked Rudolf pleasantly. "You must ring for me,
mustn't you? It would startle them if I roused them with a shot."
A motion of the barrel told Bauer the direction which the shot
"There's no bell," said Bauer sullenly.
"Ah, then you knock?"
"I suppose so."
"In any particular way, my friend?"
"I don't know," growled Bauer.
"Nor I. Can't you guess?"
"No, I know nothing of it."
"Well, we must try. You knock, and--Listen, my lad. You must
guess right. You understand?"
"How can I guess?" asked Bauer, in an attempt at bluster.
"Indeed, I don't know," smiled Rudolf. "But I hate waiting, and
if the door is not open in two minutes, I shall arouse the good
folk with a shot. You see? You quite see, don't you?" Again the
barrel's motion pointed and explained Mr. Rassendyll's meaning.
Under this powerful persuasion Bauer yielded. He lifted his hand
and knocked on the door with his knuckles, first loudly, then
very softly, the gentler stroke being repeated five times in
rapid succession. Clearly he was expected, for without any sound
of approaching feet the chain was unfastened with a subdued
rattle. Then came the noise of the bolt being cautiously worked
back into its socket. As it shot home a chink of the door opened.
At the same moment Rudolf's hand slipped from Bauer's arm. With a
swift movement he caught the fellow by the nape of the neck and
flung him violently forward into the roadway, where, losing his
footing, he fell sprawling face downwards in the mud. Rudolf
threw himself against the door: it yielded, he was inside, and in
an instant he had shut the door and driven the bolt home again,
leaving Bauer in the gutter outside. Then he turned, with his
hand on the butt of his revolver. I know that he hoped to find
Rupert of Hentzau's face within a foot of his.
Neither Rupert nor Rischenheim, nor even the old woman fronted
him: a tall, handsome, dark girl faced him, holding an oil-lamp
in her hand. He did not know her, but I could have told him that
she was old Mother Holf's youngest child, Rosa, for I had often
seen her as I rode through the town of Zenda with the king,
before the old lady moved her dwelling to Strelsau. Indeed the
girl had seemed to haunt the king's foot-steps, and he had
himself joked on her obvious efforts to attract his attention,
and the languishing glances of her great black eyes. But it is
the lot of prominent personages to inspire these strange
passions, and the king had spent as little thought on her as on
any of the romantic girls who found a naughty delight in
half-fanciful devotion to him--devotion starting, in many cases,
by an irony of which the king was happily unconscious, from the
brave figure that he made at his coronation and his picturesque
daring in the affair of Black Michael. The worshipers never came
near enough to perceive the alteration in their idol.
The half then, at least, of Rosa's attachment was justly due to
the man who now stood opposite to her, looking at her with
surprise by the murky light of the strong-smelling oil-lamp. The
lamp shook and almost fell from her hand when she saw him; for
the scarf had slid away, and his features were exposed to full
view. Fright, delight, and excitement vied with one another in
"The king!" she whispered in amazement. "No, but--" And she
searched his face wonderingly.
"Is it the beard you miss?" asked Rudolf, fingering his chin.
"Mayn't kings shave when they please, as well as other men?" Her
face still expressed bewilderment, and still a lingering doubt.
He bent towards her, whispering:
"Perhaps I wasn't over-anxious to be known at once."
She flushed with pleasure at the confidence he seemed to put in
"I should know you anywhere," she whispered, with a glance of the
great black eyes. "Anywhere, your Majesty."
"Then you'll help me, perhaps?"
"With my life."
"No, no, my dear young lady, merely with a little information.
Whose home is this?"
"Ah! She takes lodgers?"
The girl appeared vexed at his cautious approaches. "Tell me what
you want to know," she said simply.
"Then who's here?"
"My lord the Count of Luzau-Rischenheim."
"And what's he doing?"
"He's lying on the bed moaning and swearing, because his wounded
arm gives him pain."
"And is nobody else here?"
She looked round warily, and sank her voice to a whisper as she
"No, not now--nobody else."
"I was seeking a friend of mine," said Rudolf. "I want to see him
alone. It's not easy for a king to see people alone."
"Well, you know whom I mean."
"Yes. No, he's gone; but he's gone to find you."
"To find me! Plague take it! How do you know that, my pretty
"Bauer told me."
"Ah, Bauer! And who's Bauer?"
"The man who knocked. Why did you shut him out?"
"To be alone with you, to be sure. So Bauer tells you his
She acknowledged his raillery with a coquettish laugh. It was not
amiss for the king to see that she had her admirers.
"Well, and where has this foolish count gone to meet me?" asked
"You haven't seen him?"
"No; I came straight from the Castle of Zenda."
"But," she cried, "he expected to find you at the hunting lodge.
Ah, but now I recollect! The Count of Rischenheim was greatly
vexed to find, on his return, that his cousin was gone."
"Ah, he was gone! Now I see! Rischenheim brought a message from
me to Count Rupert."
"And they missed one another, your Majesty?"
"Exactly, my dear young lady. Very vexatious it is, upon my
word!" In this remark, at least, Rudolf spoke no more and no
other than he felt. "But when do you expect the Count of
Hentzau?" he pursued.
"Early in the morning, your Majesty--at seven or eight."
Rudolf came nearer to her, and took a couple of gold coins from
"I don't want money, your Majesty," she murmured.
"Oh, make a hole in them and hang them round your neck."
"Ah, yes: yes, give them to me," she cried, holding out her hand
"You'll earn them?" he asked, playfully holding them out of her
"By being ready to open to me when I come at eleven and knock as
"Yes, I'll be there."
"And by telling nobody that I've been here to-night. Will you
promise me that?"
"Not my mother?"
"Nor the Count of Luzau-Rischenheim?"
"Him least of all. You must tell nobody. My business is very
private, and Rischenheim doesn't know it."
"I'll do all you tell me. But--but Bauer knows."
"True," said Rudolf. "Bauer knows. Well, we'll see about Bauer."
As he spoke he turned towards the door. Suddenly the girl bent,
snatched at his hand and kissed it.
"I would die for you," she murmured.
"Poor child!" said he gently. I believe he was loath to make
profit, even in the queen's service, of her poor foolish love. He
laid his hand on the door, but paused a moment to say:
"If Bauer comes, you have told me nothing. Mind, nothing! I
threatened you, but you told me nothing."
"He'll tell them you have been here."
"That can't be helped; at least they won't know when I shall
arrive again. Good-night."
Rudolf opened the door and slipped through, closing it hastily
behind him. If Bauer got back to the house, his visit must be
known; but if he could intercept Bauer, the girl's silence was
assured. He stood just outside, listening intently and searching
the darkness with eager eyes.
CHAPTER XI. WHAT THE CHANCELLOR'S WIFE SAW
THE night, so precious in its silence, solitude, and darkness,
was waning fast; soon the first dim approaches of day would be
visible; soon the streets would become alive and people be about.
Before then Rudolf Rassendyll, the man who bore a face that he
dared not show in open day, must be under cover; else men would
say that the king was in Strelsau, and the news would flash in a
few hours through the kingdom and (so Rudolf feared) reach even
those ears which we knew to be shut to all earthly sounds. But
there was still some time at Mr. Rassendyll's disposal, and he
could not spend it better than in pursuing his fight with Bauer.
Taking a leaf out of the rascal's own book, he drew himself back
into the shadow of the house walls and prepared to wait. At the
worst he could keep the fellow from communicating with
Rischenheim for a little longer, but his hope was that Bauer
would steal back after a while and reconnoitre with a view to
discovering how matters stood, whether the unwelcome visitor had
taken his departure and the way to Rischenheim were open.
Wrapping his scarf closely round his face, Rudolf waited,
patiently enduring the tedium as he best might, drenched by the
rain, which fell steadily, and very imperfectly sheltered from
the buffeting of the wind. Minutes went by; there were no signs
of Bauer nor of anybody else in the silent street. Yet Rudolf did
not venture to leave his post; Bauer would seize the opportunity
to slip in; perhaps Bauer had seen him come out, and was in his
turn waiting till the coast should be clear; or, again, perhaps
the useful spy had gone off to intercept Rupert of Hentzau, and
warn him of the danger in the Konigstrasse. Ignorant of the
truth and compelled to accept all these chances, Rudolf waited,
still watching the distant beginnings of dawning day, which must
soon drive him to his hiding-place again. Meanwhile my poor wife
waited also, a prey to every fear that a woman's sensitive mind
can imagine and feed upon.
Rudolf turned his head this way and that, seeking always the
darker blot of shadow that would mean a human being. For a while
his search was vain, but presently he found what he looked
for--ay, and even more. On the same side of the street, to his
left hand, from the direction of the station, not one, but three
blurred shapes moved up the street. They came stealthily, yet
quickly; with caution, but without pause or hesitation. Rudolf,
scenting danger, flattened himself close against the wall and
felt for his revolver. Very likely they were only early workers
or late revelers, but he was ready for something else; he had not
yet sighted Bauer, and action was to be looked for from the man.
By infinitely gradual sidelong slitherings he moved a few paces
from the door of Mother Holf's house, and stood six feet perhaps,
or eight, on the right-hand side of it. The three came on. He
strained his eyes in the effort to discern their features. In
that dim light certainty was impossible, but the one in the
middle might well be Bauer: the height, the walk, and the make
were much what Bauer's were. If it were Bauer, then Bauer had
friends, and Bauer and his friends seemed to be stalking some
game. Always most carefully and gradually Rudolf edged yet
farther from the little shop. At a distance of some five yards he
halted finally, drew out his revolver, covered the man whom he
took to be Bauer, and thus waited his fortune and his chance.
Now, it was plain that Bauer--for Bauer it was--would look for
one of two things: what he hoped was to find Rudolf still in the
house, what he feared was to be told that Rudolf, having
fulfilled the unknown purpose of his visit, was gone whole and
sound. If the latter tidings met him, these two good friends of
his whom he had enlisted for his reinforcement were to have five
crowns each and go home in peace; if the former, they were to do
their work and make ten crowns. Years after, one of them told me
the whole story without shame or reserve. What their work was,
the heavy bludgeons they carried and the long knife that one of
them had lent to Bauer showed pretty clearly.
But neither to Bauer nor to them did it occur that their quarry
might be crouching near, hunting as well as hunted. Not that the
pair of ruffians who had been thus hired would have hesitated for
that thought, as I imagine. For it is strange, yet certain, that
the zenith of courage and the acme of villainy can alike be
bought for the price of a lady's glove. Among such outcasts as
those from whom Bauer drew his recruits the murder of a man is
held serious only when the police are by, and death at the hands
of him they seek to kill is no more than an every-day risk of
"Here's the house," whispered Bauer, stopping at the door. "Now,
I'll knock, and you stand by to knock him on the head if he runs
out. He's got a six-shooter, so lose no time."
"He'll only fire it in heaven," growled a hoarse, guttural voice
that ended in a chuckle.
"But if he's gone?" objected the other auxiliary.
"Then I know where he's gone," answered Bauer. "Are you ready?"
A ruffian stood on either side of the door with uplifted
bludgeon. Bauer raised his hand to knock.
Rudolf knew that Rischenheim was within, and he feared that
Bauer, hearing that the stranger had gone, would take the
opportunity of telling the count of his visit. The count would,
in his turn, warn Rupert of Hentzau, and the work of catching the
ringleader would all fall to be done again. At no time did Mr.
Rassendyll take count of odds against him, but in this instance
he may well have thought himself, with his revolver, a match for
the three ruffians. At any rate, before Bauer had time to give
the signal, he sprang out suddenly from the wall and darted at
the fellow. His onset was so sudden that the other two fell back
a pace; Rudolf caught Bauer fairly by the throat. I do not
suppose that he meant to strangle him, but the anger, long stored
in his heart, found vent in the fierce grip of his fingers. It is
certain that Bauer thought his time was come, unless he struck a
blow for himself. Instantly he raised his hand and thrust
fiercely at Rudolf with his long knife. Mr. Rassendyll would have
been a dead man, had he not loosed his hold and sprung lightly
away. But Bauer sprang at him again, thrusting with the knife,
and crying to his associates,
"Club him, you fools, club him!"
Thus exhorted, one jumped forward. The moment for hesitation had
gone. In spite of the noise of wind and pelting rain, the sound
of a shot risked much; but not to fire was death. Rudolf fired
full at Bauer: the fellow saw his intention and tried to leap
behind one of his companions; he was just too late, and fell with
a groan to the ground.
Again the other ruffians shrank back, appalled by the sudden
ruthless decision of the act. Mr. Rassendyll laughed. A half
smothered yet uncontrolled oath broke from one of them. "By God!"
he whispered hoarsely, gazing at Rudolf's face and letting his
arm fall to his side. "My God!" he said then, and his mouth hung
open. Again Rudolf laughed at his terrified stare.
"A bigger job than you fancied, is it?" he asked, pushing his
scarf well away from his chin.
The man gaped at him; the other's eyes asked wondering questions,
but neither did he attempt to resume the attack. The first at
last found voice, and he said, "Well, it'd be damned cheap at ten
crowns, and that's the living truth."
His friend--or confederate rather, for such men have no
friends--looked on, still amazed.
"Take up that fellow by his head and his heels," ordered Rudolf.
"Quickly! I suppose you don't want the police to find us here
with him, do you? Well, no more do I. Lift him up."
As he spoke Rudolf turned to knock at the door of No. 19. But
even as he did so Bauer groaned. Dead perhaps he ought to have
been, but it seems to me that fate is always ready to take the
cream and leave the scum. His leap aside had served him well,
after all: he had nearly escaped scot free. As it was, the
bullet, almost missing his head altogether, had just glanced on
his temple as it passed; its impact had stunned, but not killed.
Friend Bauer was in unusual luck that night; I wouldn't have
taken a hundred to one about his chance of life. Rupert arrested
his hand. It would not do to leave Bauer at the house, if Bauer
were likely to regain speech. He stood for a moment, considering
what to do, but in an instant the thoughts that he tried to
gather were scattered again.
"The patrol! the patrol!" hoarsely whispered the fellow who had
not yet spoken. There was a sound of the hoofs of horses. Down
the street from the station end there appeared two mounted men.
Without a second moment's hesitation the two rascals dropped
their friend Bauer with a thud on the ground; one ran at his full
speed across the street, the other bolted no less quickly up the
Konigstrasse. Neither could afford to meet the constables; and
who could say what story this red-haired gentleman might tell,
ay, or what powers he might command?
But, in truth, Rudolf gave no thought to either his story or his
powers. If he were caught, the best he could hope would be to lie
in the lockup while Rupert played his game unmolested. The device
that he had employed against the amazed ruffians could be used
against lawful authority only as a last and desperate resort.
While he could run, run he would. In an instant he also took to
his heels, following the fellow who had darted up the
Konigstrasse. But before he had gone very far, coming to a
narrow turning, he shot down it; then he paused for a moment to
The patrol had seen the sudden dispersal of the group, and,
struck with natural suspicion, quickened pace. A few minutes
brought them where Bauer was. They jumped from their horses and
ran to him. He was unconscious, and could, of course, give them
no account of how he came to be in his present state. The fronts
of all the houses were dark, the doors shut; there was nothing to
connect the man stretched on the ground with either No. 19 or any
other dwelling. Moreover, the constables were not sure that the
sufferer was himself a meritorious object, for his hand still
held a long, ugly knife. They were perplexed: they were but two;
there was a wounded man to look after; there were three men to
pursue, and the three had fled in three separate directions. They
looked up at No. 19; No. 19 remained dark, quiet, absolutely
indifferent. The fugitives were out of sight. Rudolf Rassendyll,
hearing nothing, had started again on his way. But a minute later
he heard a shrill whistle. The patrol were summoning assistance;
the man must be carried to the station, and a report made; but
other constables might be warned of what had happened, and
despatched in pursuit of the culprits. Rudolf heard more than one
answering whistle; he broke into a run, looking for a turning on
the left that would take him back into the direction of my house,
but he found none. The narrow street twisted and curved in the
bewildering way that characterizes the old parts of the town.
Rudolf had spent some time once in Strelsau; but a king learns
little of back streets, and he was soon fairly puzzled as to his
whereabouts. Day was dawning, and he began to meet people here
and there. He dared run no more, even had his breath lasted him;
winding the scarf about his face, and cramming his hat over his
forehead again, he fell into an easy walk, wondering whether he
could venture to ask his way, relieved to find no signs that he
was being pursued, trying to persuade himself that Bauer, though
not dead, was at least incapable of embarrassing disclosures;
above all, conscious of the danger of his tell-tale face, and of
the necessity of finding some shelter before the city was all
stirring and awake.
At this moment he heard horses' hoofs behind him. He was now at
the end of the street, where it opened on the square in which the
barracks stand. He knew his bearings now, and, had he not been
interrupted, could have been back to safe shelter in my house in
twenty minutes. But, looking back, he saw the figure of a mounted
constable just coming into sight behind him. The man seemed to
see Rudolf, for he broke into a quick trot. Mr. Rassendyll's
position was critical; this fact alone accounts for the dangerous
step into which he allowed himself to be forced. Here he was, a
man unable to give account of himself, of remarkable appearance,
and carrying a revolver, of which one barrel was discharged. And
there was Bauer, a wounded man, shot by somebody with a revolver,
a quarter of an hour before. Even to be questioned was dangerous;
to be detained meant ruin to the great business that engaged his
energies. For all he knew, the patrol had actually sighted him as
he ran. His fears were not vain; for the constable raised his
voice, crying, "Hi, sir--you there--stop a minute!"
Resistance was the one thing worse than to yield. Wit, and not
force, must find escape this time. Rudolf stopped, looking round
again with a surprised air. Then he drew himself up with an
assumption of dignity, and waited for the constable. If that last
card must be played, he would win the hand with it.
"Well, what do you want?" he asked coldly, when the man was a few
yards from him; and, as he spoke, he withdrew the scarf almost
entirely from his features, keeping it only over his chin. "You
call very peremptorily," he continued, staring contemptuously.
"What's your business with me?"
With a violent start, the sergeant--for such the star on his
collar and the lace on his cuff proclaimed him--leant forward in
the saddle to look at the man whom he had hailed. Rudolf said
nothing and did not move. The man's eyes studied his face
intently. Then he sat bolt upright and saluted, his face dyed to
a deep red in his sudden confusion.
"And why do you salute me now?" asked Rudolf in a mocking tone.
"First you hunt me, then you salute me. By Heaven, I don't know
why you put yourself out at all about me!"
"I--I--" the fellow stuttered. Then trying a fresh start, he
stammered, "Your Majesty, I didn't know--I didn't suppose--"
Rudolf stepped towards him with a quick, decisive tread.
"And why do you call me 'Your Majesty'?" he asked, still
"It--it--isn't it your Majesty?"
Rudolf was close by him now, his hand on the horse's neck.
He looked up into the sergeant's face with steady eyes, saying:
"You make a mistake, my friend. I am not the king."
"You are not--?" stuttered the bewildered fellow.
"By no means. And, sergeant--?"
"Sir, you mean."
"A zealous officer, sergeant, can make no greater mistake than to
take for the king a gentleman who is not the king. It might
injure his prospects, since the king, not being here, mightn't
wish to have it supposed that he was here. Do you follow me,
The man said nothing, but stared hard. After a moment Rudolf
"In such a case," said he, "a discreet officer would not trouble
the gentleman any more, and would be very careful not to mention
that he had made such a silly mistake. Indeed, if questioned, he
would answer without hesitation that he hadn't seen anybody even
like the king, much less the king himself."
A doubtful, puzzled little smile spread under the sergeant's
"You see, the king is not even in Strelsau," said Rudolf.
"Not in Strelsau, sir?"
"Why, no, he's at Zenda."
"Ah! At Zenda, sir?"
"Certainly. It is therefore impossible--physically
impossible--that he should be here."
The fellow was convinced that he understood now.
"It's certainly impossible, sir," said he, smiling more broadly.
"Absolutely. And therefore impossible also that you should have
seen him." With this Rudolf took a gold piece from his pocket and
handed it to the sergeant. The fellow took it with something like
"As for you, you've searched here and found nobody," concluded
Mr. Rassendyll. "So hadn't you better at once search somewhere
"Without doubt, sir," said the sergeant, and with the most
deferential salute, and another confidential smile, he turned and
rode back by the way he had come. No doubt he wished that he
could meet a gentleman who was--not the king--every morning of
his life. It hardly need be said that all idea of connecting the
gentleman with the crime committed in the Konigstrasse had
vanished from his mind. Thus Rudolf won freedom from the man's
interference, but at a dangerous cost--how dangerous he did not
know. It was indeed most impossible that the king could be in
He lost no time now in turning his steps towards his refuge. It
was past five o'clock, day came quickly, and the streets began to
be peopled by men and women on their way to open stalls or to buy
in the market. Rudolf crossed the square at a rapid walk, for he
was afraid of the soldiers who were gathering for early duty
opposite to the barracks. Fortunately he passed by them
unobserved, and gained the comparative seclusion of the street in
which my house stands, without encountering any further
difficulties. In truth, he was almost in safety; but bad luck was
now to have its turn. When Mr. Rassendyll was no more than fifty
yards from my door, a carriage suddenly drove up and stopped a
few paces in front of him. The footman sprang down and opened the
door. Two ladies got out; they were dressed in evening costume,
and were returning from a ball. One was middle-aged, the other
young and rather pretty. They stood for a moment on the pavement,
the younger saying:
"Isn't it pleasant, mother? I wish I could always be up at five
"My dear, you wouldn't like it for long," answered the elder.
"It's very nice for a change, but--"
She stopped abruptly. Her eye had fallen on Rudolf Rassendyll. He
knew her: she was no less a person than the wife of Helsing the
chancellor; his was the house at which the carriage had stopped.
The trick that had served with the sergeant of police would not
do now. She knew the king too well to believe that she could be
mistaken about him; she was too much of a busybody to be content
to pretend that she was mistaken.
"Good gracious!" she whispered loudly, and, catching her
daughter's arm, she murmured, "Heavens, my dear, it's the king!"
Rudolf was caught. Not only the ladies, but their servants were
looking at him.
Flight was impossible. He walked by them. The ladies curtseyed,
the servants bowed bare-headed. Rudolf touched his hat and bowed
slightly in return. He walked straight on towards my house; they
were watching him, and he knew it. Most heartily did he curse the
untimely hours to which folks keep up their dancing, but he
thought that a visit to my house would afford as plausible an
excuse for his presence as any other. So he went on, surveyed by
the wondering ladies, and by the servants who, smothering smiles,
asked one another what brought his Majesty abroad in such a
plight (for Rudolf's clothes were soaked and his boots muddy), at
such an hour--and that in Strelsau, when all the world thought he
was at Zenda.
Rudolf reached my house. Knowing that he was watched he had
abandoned all intention of giving the signal agreed on between my
wife and himself and of making his way in through the window.
Such a sight would indeed have given the excellent Baroness von
Helsing matter for gossip! It was better to let every servant in
my house see his open entrance. But, alas, virtue itself
sometimes leads to ruin. My dearest Helga, sleepless and watchful
in the interest of her mistress, was even now behind the shutter,
listening with all her ears and peering through the chinks. No
sooner did Rudolf's footsteps become audible than she cautiously
unfastened the shutter, opened the window, put her pretty head
out, and called softly: "All's safe! Come in!"
The mischief was done then, for the faces of Helsing's wife and
daughter, ay, and the faces of Helsing's servants, were intent on
this most strange spectacle. Rudolf, turning his head over his
shoulder, saw them; a moment later poor Helga saw them also.
Innocent and untrained in controlling her feelings, she gave a
shrill little cry of dismay, and hastily drew back. Rudolf looked
round again. The ladies had retreated to the cover of the porch,
but he still saw their eager faces peering from between the
pillars that supported it.
"I may as well go in now," said Rudolf, and in he sprang. There
was a merry smile on his face as he ran forward to meet Helga,
who leant against the table, pale and agitated.
"They saw you?" she gasped.
"Undoubtedly," said he. Then his sense of amusement conquered
everything else, and he sat down in a chair, laughing.
"I'd give my life," said he, "to hear the story that the
chancellor will be waked up to hear in a minute or two from now!"
But a moment's thought made him grave again. For whether he were
the king or Rudolf Rassendyll, he knew that my wife's name was in
equal peril. Knowing this, he stood at nothing to serve her. He
turned to her and spoke quickly.
"You must rouse one of the servants at once. Send him round to
the chancellor's and tell the chancellor to come here directly.
No, write a note. Say the king has come by appointment to see
Fritz on some private business, but that Fritz has not kept the
appointment, and that the king must now see the chancellor at
once. Say there's not a moment to lose."
She was looking at him with wondering eyes.
"Don't you see," he said, "if I can impose on Helsing, I may stop
those women's tongues? If nothing's done, how long do you suppose
it'll be before all Strelsau knows that Fritz von Tarlenheim's
wife let the king in at the window at five o'clock in the
"I don't understand," murmured poor Helga in bewilderment.
"No, my dear lady, but for Heaven's sake do what I ask of you.
It's the only chance now."
"I'll do it," she said, and sat down to write.
Thus it was that, hard on the marvelous tidings which, as I
conjecture, the Baroness von Helsing poured into her husband's
drowsy ears, came an imperative summons that the chancellor
should wait on the king at the house of Fritz von Tarlenheim.
Truly we had tempted fate too far by bringing Rudolf Rassendyll
again to Strelsau.
CHAPTER XII. BEFORE THEM ALL!
GREAT as was the risk and immense as were the difficulties
created by the course which Mr. Rassendyll adopted, I cannot
doubt that he acted for the best in the light of the information
which he possessed. His plan was to disclose himself in the
character of the king to Helsing, to bind him to secrecy, and
make him impose the same obligation on his wife, daughter, and
servants. The chancellor was to be quieted with the excuse of
urgent business, and conciliated by a promise that he should know
its nature in the course of a few hours; meanwhile an appeal to
his loyalty must suffice to insure obedience. If all went well in
the day that had now dawned, by the evening of it the letter
would be destroyed, the queen's peril past, and Rudolf once more
far away from Strelsau. Then enough of the truth--no more--must
be disclosed. Helsing would be told the story of Rudolf
Rassendyll and persuaded to hold his tongue about the
harum-scarum Englishman (we are ready to believe much of an
Englishman) having been audacious enough again to play the king
in Strelsau. The old chancellor was a very good fellow, and I do
not think that Rudolf did wrong in relying upon him. Where he
miscalculated was, of course, just where he was ignorant. The
whole of what the queen's friends, ay, and the queen herself, did
in Strelsau, became useless and mischievous by reason of the
king's death; their action must have been utterly different, had
they been aware of that catastrophe; but their wisdom must be
judged only according to their knowledge.
In the first place, the chancellor himself showed much good
sense. Even before he obeyed the king's summons he sent for the
two servants and charged them, on pain of instant dismissal and
worse things to follow, to say nothing of what they had seen. His
commands to his wife and daughter were more polite, doubtless,
but no less peremptory. He may well have supposed that the king's
business was private as well as important when it led his Majesty
to be roaming the streets of Strelsau at a moment when he was
supposed to be at the Castle of Zenda, and to enter a friend's
house by the window at such untimely hours. The mere facts were
eloquent of secrecy. Moreover, the king had shaved his beard--the
ladies were sure of it--and this, again, though it might be
merely an accidental coincidence, was also capable of signifying
a very urgent desire to be unknown. So the chancellor, having
given his orders, and being himself aflame with the liveliest
curiosity, lost no time in obeying the king's commands, and
arrived at my house before six o'clock.
When the visitor was announced Rudolf was upstairs, having a bath
and some breakfast. Helga had learnt her lesson well enough to
entertain the visitor until Rudolf appeared. She was full of
apologies for my absence, protesting that she could in no way
explain it; neither could she so much as conjecture what was the
king's business with her husband. She played the dutiful wife
whose virtue was obedience, whose greatest sin would be an
indiscreet prying into what it was not her part to know.
"I know no more," she said, "than that Fritz wrote to me to
expect the king and him at about five o'clock, and to be ready to
let them in by the window, as the king did not wish the servants
to be aware of his presence."
The king came and greeted Helsing most graciously. The tragedy
and comedy of these busy days were strangely mingled; even now I
can hardly help smiling when I picture Rudolf, with grave lips,
but that distant twinkle in his eye (I swear he enjoyed the
sport), sitting down by the old chancellor in the darkest corner
of the room, covering him with flattery, hinting at most strange
things, deploring a secret obstacle to immediate confidence,
promising that to-morrow, at latest, he would seek the advice of
the wisest and most tried of his counselors, appealing to the
chancellor's loyalty to trust him till then. Helsing, blinking
through his spectacles, followed with devout attention the long
narrative that told nothing, and the urgent exhortation that
masked a trick. His accents were almost broken with emotion as he
put himself absolutely at the king's disposal, and declared that
he could answer for the discretion of his family and household as
completely as for his own.
"Then you're a very lucky man, my dear chancellor," said Rudolf,
with a sigh which seemed to hint that the king in his palace was
not so fortunate. Helsing was immensely pleased. He was all agog
to go and tell his wife how entirely the king trusted to her
honor and silence.
There was nothing that Rudolf more desired than to be relieved of
the excellent old fellow's presence; but, well aware of the
supreme importance of keeping him in a good temper, he would not
hear of his departure for a few minutes.
"At any rate, the ladies won't talk till after breakfast, and
since they got home only at five o'clock they won't breakfast yet
awhile," said he.
So he made Helsing sit down, and talked to him. Rudolf had not
failed to notice that the Count of Luzau-Rischenheim had been a
little surprised at the sound of his voice; in this conversation
he studiously kept his tones low, affecting a certain weakness
and huskiness such as he had detected in the king's utterances,
as he listened behind the curtain in Sapt's room at the castle.
The part was played as completely and triumphantly as in the old
days when he ran the gauntlet of every eye in Strelsau. Yet if he
had not taken such pains to conciliate old Helsing, but had let
him depart, he might not have found himself driven to a greater
and even more hazardous deception.
They were conversing together alone. My wife had been prevailed
on by Rudolf to lie down in her room for an hour. Sorely needing
rest, she had obeyed him, having first given strict orders that
no member of the household should enter the room where the two
were except on an express summons. Fearing suspicion, she and
Rudolf had agreed that it was better to rely on these injunctions
than to lock the door again as they had the night before.
But while these things passed at my house, the queen and
Bernenstein were on their way to Strelsau. Perhaps, had Sapt been
at Zenda, his powerful influence might have availed to check the
impulsive expedition; Bernenstein had no such authority, and
could only obey the queen's peremptory orders and pathetic
prayers. Ever since Rudolf Rassendyll left her, three years
before, she had lived in stern self-repression, never her true
self, never for a moment able to be or to do what every hour her
heart urged on her. How are these things done? I doubt if a man
lives who could do them; but women live who do them. Now his
sudden coming, and the train of stirring events that accompanied
it, his danger and hers, his words and her enjoyment of his
presence, had all worked together to shatter her self-control;
and the strange dream, heightening the emotion which was its own
cause, left her with no conscious desire save to be near Mr.
Rassendyll, and scarcely with a fear except for his safety. As
they journeyed her talk was all of his peril, never of the
disaster which threatened herself, and which we were all striving
with might and main to avert from her head. She traveled alone
with Bernenstein, getting rid of the lady who attended her by
some careless pretext, and she urged on him continually to bring
her as speedily as might be to Mr. Rassendyll. I cannot find much
blame for her. Rudolf stood for all the joy in her life, and
Rudolf had gone to fight with the Count of Hentzau. What wonder
that she saw him, as it were, dead? Yet still she would have it
that, in his seeming death, all men hailed him for their king.
Well, it was her love that crowned him.
As they reached the city, she grew more composed, being persuaded
by Bernenstein that nothing in her bearing must rouse suspicion.
Yet she was none the less resolved to seek Mr. Rassendyll at
once. In truth, she feared even then to find him dead, so strong
was the hold of her dream on her; until she knew that he was
alive she could not rest. Bernenstein, fearful that the strain
would kill her, or rob her of reason, promised everything; and
declared, with a confidence which he did not feel, that beyond
doubt Mr. Rassendyll was alive and well.
"But where--where?" she cried eagerly, with clasped hands.
"We're most likely, madam, to find him at Fritz von
Tarlenheim's," answered the lieutenant. "He would wait there till
the time came to attack Rupert, or, if the thing is over, he will
have returned there."
"Then let us drive there at once," she urged.
Bernenstein, however, persuaded her to go to the palace first and
let it be known there that she was going to pay a visit to my
wife. She arrived at the palace at eight o'clock, took a cup of
chocolate, and then ordered her carriage. Bernenstein alone
accompanied her when she set out for my house about nine. He was,
by now, hardly less agitated than the queen herself.
In her entire preoccupation with Mr. Rassendyll, she gave little
thought to what might have happened at the hunting lodge; but
Bernenstein drew gloomy auguries from the failure of Sapt and
myself to return at the proper time. Either evil had befallen us,
or the letter had reached the king before we arrived at the
lodge; the probabilities seemed to him to be confined to these
alternatives. Yet when he spoke in this strain to the queen, he
could get from her nothing except, "If we can find Mr.
Rassendyll, he will tell us what to do."
Thus, then, a little after nine in the morning the queen's
carriage drove up to my door. The ladies of the chancellor's
family had enjoyed a very short night's rest, for their heads
came bobbing out of window the moment the wheels were heard; many
people were about now, and the crown on the panels attracted the
usual small crowd of loiterers. Bernenstein sprang out and gave
his hand to the queen. With a hasty slight bow to the onlookers,
she hastened up the two or three steps of the porch, and with her
own hand rang the bell. Inside, the carriage had just been
observed. My wife's waiting-maid ran hastily to her mistress;
Helga was lying on her bed; she rose at once, and after a few
moments of necessary preparations (or such preparations as seem
to ladies necessary, however great the need of haste may be)
hurried downstairs to receive her Majesty--and to warn her
Majesty. She was too late. The door was already open. The butler
and the footman both had run to it, and thrown it open for the
queen. As Helga reached the foot of the stairs, her Majesty was
just entering the room where Rudolf was, the servants attending
her, and Bernenstein standing behind, his helmet in his hand.
Rudolf and the chancellor had been continuing their conversation.
To avoid the observations of passers-by (for the interior of the
room is easy to see from the street), the blind had been drawn
down, and the room was in deep shadow. They had heard the wheels,
but neither of them dreamt that the visitor could be the queen.
It was an utter surprise to them when, without their orders, the
door was suddenly flung open. The chancellor, slow of movement,
and not, if I may say it, over-quick of brain, sat in his corner
for half a minute or more before he rose to his feet. On the
other hand, Rudolf Rassendyll was the best part of the way across
the room in an instant. Helga was at the door now, and she thrust
her head round young Bernenstein's broad shoulders. Thus she saw
what happened. The queen, forgetting the servants, and not
observing Helsing--seeming indeed to stay for nothing, and to
think of nothing, but to have her thoughts and heart filled with
the sight of the man she loved and the knowledge of his
safety--met him as he ran towards her, and, before Helga, or
Bernenstein, or Rudolf himself, could stay her or conceive what
she was about to do, caught both his hands in hers with an
intense grasp, crying:
"Rudolf, you're safe! Thank God, oh, thank God!" and she carried
his hands to her lips and kissed them passionately.
A moment of absolute silence followed, dictated in the servants
by decorum, in the chancellor by consideration, in Helga and
Bernenstein by utter consternation. Rudolf himself also was
silent, but whether from bewilderment or an emotion answering to
hers, I know not. Either it might well be. The stillness struck
her. She looked up in his eyes; she looked round the room and saw
Helsing, now bowing profoundly from the corner; she turned her
head with a sudden frightened jerk, and glanced at my motionless
deferential servants. Then it came upon her what she had done.
She gave a quick gasp for breath, and her face, always pale, went
white as marble. Her features set in a strange stiffness, and
suddenly she reeled where she stood, and fell forward. Only
Rudolf's hand bore her up. Thus for a moment, too short to
reckon, they stood. Then he, a smile of great love and pity
coming on his lips, drew her to him, and passing his arm about
her waist, thus supported her. Then, smiling still, he looked
down on her, and said in a low tone, yet distinct enough for all
"All is well, dearest."
My wife gripped Bernenstein's arm, and he turned to find her
pale-faced too, with quivering lips and shining eyes. But the
eyes had a message, and an urgent one, for him. He read it; he
knew that it bade him second what Rudolf Rassendyll had done. He
came forward and approached Rudolf; then he fell on one knee, and
kissed Rudolf's left hand that was extended to him.
"I'm very glad to see you, Lieutenant von Bernenstein," said
For a moment the thing was done, ruin averted, and safety
secured. Everything had been at stake; that there was such a man
as Rudolf Rassendyll might have been disclosed; that he had once
filled the king's throne was a high secret which they were
prepared to trust to Helsing under stress of necessity; but there
remained something which must be hidden at all costs, and which
the queen's passionate exclamation had threatened to expose.
There was a Rudolf Rassendyll, and he had been king; but, more
than all this, the queen loved him and he the queen. That could
be told to none, not even to Helsing; for Helsing, though he
would not gossip to the town, would yet hold himself bound to
carry the matter to the king. So Rudolf chose to take any future
difficulties rather than that present and certain disaster.
Sooner than entail it on her he loved, he claimed for himself the
place of her husband and the name of king. And she, clutching at
the only chance that her act left, was content to have it so. It
may be that for an instant her weary, tortured brain found sweet
rest in the dim dream that so it was, for she let her head lie
there on his breast and her eyes closed, her face looking very
peaceful, and a soft little sigh escaping in pleasure from her
But every moment bore its peril and exacted its effort. Rudolf
led the queen to a couch, and then briefly charged the servants
not to speak of his presence for a few hours. As they had no
doubt perceived, said he, from the queen's agitation, important
business was on foot; it demanded his presence in Strelsau, but
required also that his presence should not be known. A short time
would free them from the obligation which he now asked of their
loyalty. When they had withdrawn, bowing obedience, he turned to
Helsing, pressed his hand warmly, reiterated his request for
silence, and said that he would summon the chancellor to his
presence again later in the day, either where he was or at the
palace. Then he bade all withdraw and leave him alone for a
little with the queen. He was obeyed; but Helsing had hardly left
the house when Rudolf called Bernenstein back, and with him my
wife. Helga hastened to the queen, who was still sorely agitated;
Rudolf drew Bernenstein aside, and exchanged with him all their
news. Mr. Rassendyll was much disturbed at finding that no
tidings had come from Colonel Sapt and myself, but his
apprehension was greatly increased on learning the untoward
accident by which the king himself had been at the lodge the
night before. Indeed, he was utterly in the dark; where the king
was, where Rupert, where we were, he did not know. And he was
here in Strelsau, known as the king to half a dozen people or
more, protected only by their promises, liable at any moment to
be exposed by the coming of the king himself, or even by a
message from him.
Yet, in face of all perplexities, perhaps even the more because
of the darkness in which he was enveloped, Rudolf held firm to
his purpose. There were two things that seemed plain. If Rupert
had escaped the trap and was still alive with the letter on him,
Rupert must be found; here was the first task. That accomplished,
there remained for Rudolf himself nothing save to disappear as
quietly and secretly as he had come, trusting that his presence
could be concealed from the man whose name he had usurped. Nay,
if need were, the king must be told that Rudolf Rassendyll had
played a trick on the chancellor, and, having enjoyed his
pleasure, was gone again. Everything could, in the last resort,
be told, save that which touched the queen's honor.
At this moment the message which I despatched from the station at
Hofbau reached my house. There was a knock at the door.
Bernenstein opened it and took the telegram, which was addressed
to my wife. I had written all that I dared to trust to such a
means of communication, and here it is:
"I am coming to Strelsau. The king will not leave the lodge
to-day. The count came, but left before we arrived. I do not know
whether he has gone to Strelsau. He gave no news to the king."
"Then they didn't get him!" cried Bernenstein in deep
"No, but he gave no news to the king," said Rudolf triumphantly.
They were all standing now round the queen, who sat on the couch.
She seemed very faint and weary, but at peace. It was enough for
her that Rudolf fought and planned for her.
"And see this," Rudolf went on. "'The king will not leave the
lodge to-day.' Thank God, then, we have to-day!"
"Yes, but where's Rupert?"
"We shall know in an hour, if he's in Strelsau," and Mr.
Rassendyll looked as though it would please him well to find
Rupert in Strelsau. "Yes, I must seek him. I shall stand at
nothing to find him. If I can only get to him as the king, then
I'll be the king. We have to-day!"
My message put them in heart again, although it left so much
still unexplained. Rudolf turned to the queen.
"Courage, my queen," said he. "A few hours now will see an end of
all our dangers."
"And then?" she asked.
"Then you'll be safe and at rest," said he, bending over her and
speaking softly. "And I shall be proud in the knowledge of having
"I must go," Helga heard him whisper as he bent lower still, and
she and Bernenstein moved away.
CHAPTER XIII. A KING UP HIS SLEEVE
The tall handsome girl was taking down the shutters from the shop
front at No. 19 in the Konigstrasse. She went about her work
languidly enough, but there was a tinge of dusky red on her
cheeks and her eyes were brightened by some suppressed
excitement. Old Mother Holf, leaning against the counter, was
grumbling angrily because Bauer did not come. Now it was not
likely that Bauer would come just yet, for he was still in the
infirmary attached to the police-cells, where a couple of doctors
were very busy setting him on his legs again. The old woman knew
nothing of this, but only that he had gone the night before to
reconnoitre; where he was to play the spy she did not know, on
whom perhaps she guessed.
"You're sure he never came back?" she asked her daughter.
"He never came back that I saw," answered the girl. "And I was on
the watch with my lamp here in the shop till it grew light."
"He's twelve hours gone now, and never a message! Ay, and Count
Rupert should be here soon, and he'll be in a fine taking if
Bauer's not back."
The girl made no answer; she had finished her task and stood in
the doorway, looking out on the street. It was past eight, and
many people were about, still for the most part humble folk; the
more comfortably placed would not be moving for an hour or two
yet. In the road the traffic consisted chiefly of country carts
and wagons, bringing in produce for the day's victualling of the
great city. The girl watched the stream, but her thoughts were
occupied with the stately gentleman who had come to her by night
and asked a service of her. She had heard the revolver shot
outside; as it sounded she had blown out her lamp, and there
behind the door in the dark had heard the swiftly retreating feet
of the fugitives and, a little later, the arrival of the patrol.
Well, the patrol would not dare to touch the king; as for Bauer,
let him be alive or dead: what cared she, who was the king's
servant, able to help the king against his enemies? If Bauer were
the king's enemy, right glad would she be to hear that the rogue
was dead. How finely the king had caught him by the neck and
thrown him out! She laughed to think how little her mother knew
the company she had kept that night.
The row of country carts moved slowly by. One or two stopped
before the shop, and the carters offered vegetables for sale. The
old woman would have nothing to say to them, but waved them on
irritably. Three had thus stopped and again proceeded, and an
impatient grumble broke from the old lady as a fourth, a covered
wagon, drew up before the door.
"We don't want anything: go on, go on with you!" she cried
The carter got down from his seat without heeding her, and walked
round to the back.
"Here you are, sir," he cried. "Nineteen, Konigstrasse."
A yawn was heard, and the long sigh a man gives as he stretches
himself in the mingled luxury and pain of an awakening after
sound refreshing sleep.
"All right; I'll get down," came in answer from inside.
"Ah, it's the count!" said the old lady to her daughter in
satisfied tones. "What will he say, though, about that rogue
Rupert of Hentzau put his head out from under the wagon-tilt,
looked up and down the street, gave the carter a couple of
crowns, leapt down, and ran lightly across the pavement into the
little shop. The wagon moved on.
"A lucky thing I met him," said Rupert cheerily. "The wagon hid
me very well; and handsome as my face is, I can't let Strelsau
enjoy too much of it just now. Well, mother, what cheer? And you,
my pretty, how goes it with you?" He carelessly brushed the
girl's cheek with the glove that he had drawn off. "Faith,
though, I beg your pardon." he added a moment later, "the glove's
not clean enough for that," and he looked at his buff glove,
which was stained with patches of dull rusty brown.
"It's all as when you left, Count Rupert," said Mother Holf,
"except that that rascal Bauer went out last night--"
"That's right enough. But hasn't he returned?"
"No, not yet."
"Hum. No signs of--anybody else?" His look defined the vague
The old woman shook her head. The girl turned away to hide a
smile. "Anybody else" meant the king, so she suspected. Well,
they should hear nothing from her. The king himself had charged
her to be silent.
"But Rischenheim has come, I suppose?" pursued Rupert.
"Oh, yes; he came, my lord, soon after you went. He wears his arm
in a sling."
"Ah!" cried Rupert in sudden excitement. "As I guessed! The
devil! If only I could do everything myself, and not have to
trust to fools and bunglers! Where's the count?"
"Why, in the attic. You know the way."
"True. But I want some breakfast, mother."