Part 4 out of 6
"Rosa shall serve you at once, my lord."
The girl followed Rupert up the narrow crazy staircase of the
tall old house. They passed three floors, all uninhabited; a last
steep flight that brought them right under the deep arched roof.
Rupert opened a door that stood at the top of the stairs, and,
followed still by Rosa with her mysterious happy smile, entered a
long narrow room. The ceiling, high in the centre, sloped rapidly
down on either side, so that at door and window it was little
more than six feet above the floor. There was an oak table and a
few chairs; a couple of iron bedsteads stood by the wall near the
window. One was empty; the Count of Luzau-Rischenheim lay on the
other, fully dressed, his right arm supported in a sling of black
silk. Rupert paused on the threshold, smiling at his cousin; the
girl passed on to a high press or cupboard, and, opening it, took
out plates, glasses, and the other furniture of the table.
Rischenheim sprang up and ran across the room.
"What news?" he cried eagerly. "You escaped them, Rupert?"
"It appears so," said Rupert airily; and, advancing into the
room, he threw himself into a chair, tossing his hat on to the
"It appears that I escaped, although some fool's stupidity nearly
made an end of me." Rischenheim flushed.
"I'll tell you about that directly," he said, glancing at the
girl who had put some cold meat and a bottle of wine on the
table, and was now completing the preparations for Rupert's meal
in a very leisurely fashion.
"Had I nothing to do but to look at pretty faces--which, by
Heaven, I wish heartily were the case--I would beg you to stay,"
said Rupert, rising and making her a profound bow.
"I've no wish to hear what doesn't concern me," she retorted
"What a rare and blessed disposition!" said he, holding the door
for her and bowing again.
"I know what I know," she cried to him triumphantly from the
landing. "Maybe you'd give something to know it too, Count
"It's very likely, for, by Heaven, girls know wonderful things!"
smiled Rupert; but he shut the door and came quickly back to the
table, now frowning again. "Come, tell me, how did they make a
fool of you, or why did you make a fool of me, cousin?"
While Rischenheim related how he had been trapped and tricked at
the Castle of Zenda, Rupert of Hentzau made a very good
breakfast. He offered no interruption and no comments, but when
Rudolf Rassendyll came into the story he looked up for an instant
with a quick jerk of his head and a sudden light in his eyes. The
end of Rischenheim's narrative found him tolerant and smiling
"Ah, well, the snare was cleverly set," he said. "I don't wonder
you fell into it."
"And now you? What happened to you?" asked Rischenheim eagerly.
"I? Why, having your message which was not your message, I obeyed
your directions which were not your directions."
"You went to the lodge "
"And you found Sapt there?--Anybody else?"
"Why, not Sapt at all."
"Not Sapt? But surely they laid a trap for you?"
"Very possibly, but the jaws didn't bite." Rupert crossed his
legs and lit a cigarette.
"But what did you find?"
"I? I found the king's forester, and the king's boar-hound,
and--well, I found the king himself, too."
"The king at the lodge?"
"You weren't so wrong as you thought, were you?"
"But surely Sapt, or Bernenstein, or some one was with him?"
"As I tell you, his forester and his boar-hound. No other man or
beast, on my honor."
"Then you gave him the letter?" cried Rischenheim, trembling with
"Alas, no, my dear cousin. I threw the box at him, but I don't
think he had time to open it. We didn't get to that stage of the
conversation at which I had intended to produce the letter."
"But why not--why not?"
Rupert rose to his feet, and, coming just opposite to where
Rischenheim sat, balanced himself on his heels, and looked down
at his cousin, blowing the ash from his cigarette and smiling
"Have you noticed," he asked, "that my coat's torn?"
"I see it is."
"Yes. The boar-hound tried to bite me, cousin. And the forester
would have stabbed me. And--well, the king wanted to shoot me."
"Yes, yes! For God's sake, what happened?"
"Well, they none of them did what they wanted. That's what
happened, dear cousin."
Rischenheim was staring at him now with wide-opened eyes. Rupert
smiled down on him composedly.
"Because, you see," he added, "Heaven helped me. So that, my dear
cousin, the dog will bite no more, and the forester will stab no
more. Surely the country is well rid of them?"
A silence followed. Then Rischenheim, leaning forward, said in a
low whisper, as though afraid to hear his own question:
"And the king?"
"The king? Well, the king will shoot no more."
For a moment Rischenheim, still leaning forward, gazed at his
cousin. Then he sank slowly back into his chair.
"My God!" he murmured: "my God!"
"The king was a fool," said Rupert. "Come, I'll tell you a little
more about it." He drew a chair up and seated himself in it.
While he talked Rischenheim seemed hardly to listen. The story
gained in effect from the contrast of Rupert's airy telling; his
companion's pale face and twitching hands tickled his fancy to
more shameless jesting. But when he had finished, he gave a pull
to his small smartly-curled moustache and said with a sudden
"After all, though, it's a serious matter."
Rischenheim was appalled at the issue. His cousin's influence had
been strong enough to lead him into the affair of the letter; he
was aghast to think how Rupert's reckless dare-deviltry had led
on from stage to stage till the death of a king seemed but an
incident in his schemes. He sprang suddenly to his feet, crying:
"But we must fly--we must fly!"
"No, we needn't fly. Perhaps we'd better go, but we needn't fly."
"But when it becomes known?" He broke off and then cried:
"Why did you tell me? Why did you come back here?"
"Well, I told you because it was interesting, and I came back
here because I had no money to go elsewhere."
"I would have sent money."
"I find that I get more when I ask in person. Besides, is
"I'll have no more to do with it."
"Ah, my dear cousin, you despond too soon. The good king has
unhappily gone from us, but we still have our dear queen. We have
also, by the kindness of Heaven, our dear queen's letter."
"I'll have no more to do with it."
"Your neck feeling--?" Rupert delicately imitated the putting of
a noose about a man's throat.
Rischenheim rose suddenly and flung the window open wide.
"I'm suffocated," he muttered with a sullen frown, avoiding
"Where's Rudolf Rassendyll?" asked Rupert. "Have you heard of
"No, I don't know where he is."
"We must find that out, I think."
Rischenheim turned abruptly on him.
"I had no hand in this thing," he said, "and I'll have no more to
do with it. I was not there. What did I know of the king being
there? I'm not guilty of it: on my soul, I know nothing of it."
"That's all very true," nodded Rupert.
"Rupert," cried he, "let me go, let me alone. If you want money,
I'll give it to you. For God's sake take it, and get out of
"I'm ashamed to beg, my dear cousin, but in fact I want a little
money until I can contrive to realize my valuable property. Is it
safe, I wonder? Ah, yes, here it is."
He drew from his inner pocket the queen's letter. "Now if the
king hadn't been a fool!" he murmured regretfully, as he regarded
Then he walked across to the window and looked out; he could not
himself be seen from the street, and nobody was visible at the
windows opposite. Men and women passed to and fro on their daily
labors or pleasures; there was no unusual stir in the city.
Looking over the roofs, Rupert could see the royal standard
floating in the wind over the palace and the barracks. He took
out his watch; Rischenheim imitated his action; it was ten
minutes to ten.
"Rischenheim," he called, "come here a moment. Here--look out."
Rischenheim obeyed, and Rupert let him look for a minute or two
before speaking again.
"Do you see anything remarkable?" he asked then.
"No, nothing," answered Rischenheim, still curt and sullen in his
"Well, no more do I. And that's very odd. For don't you think
that Sapt or some other of her Majesty's friends must have gone
to the lodge last night?"
"They meant to, I swear," said Rischenheim with sudden attention.
"Then they would have found the king. There's a telegraph wire at
Hofbau, only a few miles away. And it's ten o'clock. My cousin,
why isn't Strelsau mourning for our lamented king? Why aren't the
flags at half-mast? I don't understand it."
"No," murmured Rischenheim, his eyes now fixed on his cousin's
Rupert broke into a smile and tapped his teeth with his fingers.
"I wonder," said he meditatively, "if that old player Sapt has
got a king up his sleeve again! If that were so--" He stopped and
seemed to fall into deep thought. Rischenheim did not interrupt
him, but stood looking now at him, now out of the window. Still
there was no stir in the streets, and still the standards floated
at the summit of the flag staffs. The king's death was not yet
known in Strelsau.
"Where's Bauer?" asked Rupert suddenly. "Where the plague can
Bauer be? He was my eyes. Here we are, cooped up, and I don't
know what's going on."
"I don't know where he is. Something must have happened to him."
"Of course, my wise cousin. But what?"
Rupert began to pace up and down the room, smoking another
cigarette at a great pace. Rischenheim sat down by the table,
resting his head on his hand. He was wearied out by strain and
excitement, his wounded arm pained him greatly, and he was full
of horror and remorse at the event which happened unknown to him
the night before.
"I wish I was quit of it," he moaned at last. Rupert stopped
"You repent of your misdeeds?" he asked. "Well, then, you shall
be allowed to repent. Nay, you shall go and tell the king that
you repent. Rischenheim, I must know what they are doing. You
must go and ask an audience of the king."
"But the king is--"
"We shall know that better when you've asked for your audience.
Rupert sat down by his cousin and instructed him in his task.
This was no other than to discover whether there were a king in
Strelsau, or whether the only king lay dead in the hunting lodge.
If there were no attempt being made to conceal the king's death,
Rupert's plan was to seek safety in flight. He did not abandon
his designs: from the secure vantage of foreign soil he would
hold the queen's letter over her head, and by the threat of
publishing it insure at once immunity for himself and almost any
further terms which he chose to exact from her. If, on the other
hand, the Count of Luzau-Rischenheim found a king in Strelsau, if
the royal standards continued to wave at the summit of their flag
staffs, and Strelsau knew nothing of the dead man in the lodge,
then Rupert had laid his hand on another secret; for he knew who
the king in Strelsau must be. Starting from this point, his
audacious mind darted forward to new and bolder schemes. He could
offer again to Rudolf Rassendyll what he had offered once before,
three years ago--a partnership in crime and the profits of
crime--or if this advance were refused, then he declared that he
would himself descend openly into the streets of Strelsau and
proclaim the death of the king from the steps of the cathedral.
"Who can tell," he cried, springing up, enraptured and merry with
the inspiration of his plan, "who can tell whether Sapt or I came
first to the lodge? Who found the king alive, Sapt or I? Who left
him dead, Sapt or I? Who had most interest in killing him--I, who
only sought to make him aware of what touched his honor, or Sapt,
who was and is hand and glove with the man that now robs him of
his name and usurps his place while his body is still warm? Ah,
they haven't done with Rupert of Hentzau yet!"
He stopped, looking down on his companion. Rischenheim's fingers
still twitched nervously and his cheeks were pale. But now his
face was alight with interest and eagerness. Again the
fascination of Rupert's audacity and the infection of his courage
caught on his kinsman's weaker nature, and inspired him to a
temporary emulation of the will that dominated him.
"You see," pursued Rupert, "it's not likely that they'll do you
"I'll risk anything."
"Most gallant gentleman! At the worst they'll only keep you a
prisoner. Well, if you're not back in a couple of hours, I shall
draw my conclusions. I shall know that there's a king in
"But where shall I look for the king?"
"Why, first in the palace, and secondly at Fritz von
Tarlenheim's. I expect you'll find him at Fritz's, though."
"Shall I go there first, then?"
"No. That would be seeming to know too much."
"You'll wait here?"
"Certainly, cousin--unless I see cause to move, you know."
"And I shall find you on my return?"
"Me, or directions from me. By the way, bring money too. There's
never any harm in having a full pocket. I wonder what the devil
does without a breeches-pocket?
Rischenheim let that curious speculation alone, although he
remembered the whimsical air with which Rupert delivered it. He
was now on fire to be gone, his ill-balanced brain leaping from
the depths of despondency to the certainty of brilliant success,
and not heeding the gulf of danger that it surpassed in buoyant
"We shall have them in a corner, Rupert," he cried.
"Ay, perhaps. But wild beasts in a corner bite hard."
"I wish my arm were well!"
"You'll be safer with it wounded," said Rupert with a smile.
"By God, Rupert, I can defend myself."
"True, true; but it's your brain I want now, cousin."
"You shall see that I have something in me."
"If it please God, dear cousin."
With every mocking encouragement and every careless taunt
Rischenheim's resolve to prove himself a man grew stronger. He
snatched up a revolver that lay on the mantelpiece and put it in
"Don't fire, if you can help it," advised Rupert. Rischenheim's
answer was to make for the door at a great speed. Rupert watched
him go, and then returned to the window. The last his cousin saw
was his figure standing straight and lithe against the light,
while he looked out on the city. Still there was no stir in the
streets, still the royal standard floated at the top of the flag
Rischenheim plunged down the stairs: his feet were too slow for
his eagerness. At the bottom he found the girl Rosa sweeping the
passage with great apparent diligence.
"You're going out, my lord?" she asked.
"Why, yes; I have business. Pray stand on one side, this passage
is so cursedly narrow."
Rosa showed no haste in moving.
"And the Count Rupert, is he going out also?" she asked.
"You see he's not with me. He'll wait." Rischenheim broke off and
asked angrily: "What business is it of yours, girl? Get out of
She moved aside now, making him no answer. He rushed past; she
looked after him with a smile of triumph. Then she fell again to
her sweeping. The king had bidden her be ready at eleven. It was
half-past ten. Soon the king would have need of her.
CHAPTER XIV. THE NEWS COMES TO STRELSAU
ON leaving No. 19, Rischenheim walked swiftly some little way up
the Konigstrasse and then hailed a cab. He had hardly raised his
hand when he heard his name called, and, looking round, saw Anton
von Strofzin's smart phaeton pulling up beside him. Anton was
driving, and on the other seat was a large nosegay of choice
"Where are you off to?" cried Anton, leaning forward with a gay
"Well, where are you? To a lady's, I presume, from your bouquet
there," answered Rischenheim as lightly as he could.
"The little bunch of flowers," simpered young Anton, "is a
cousinly offering to Helga von Tarlenheim, and I'm going to
present it. Can I give you a lift anywhere?"'
Although Rischenheim had intended to go first to the palace,
Anton's offer seemed to give him a good excuse for drawing the
more likely covert first.
"I was going to the palace to find out where the king is. I want
to see him, if he'll give me a minute or two," he remarked.
"I'll drive you there afterwards. Jump up. That your cab? Here
you are, cabman," and flinging the cabman a crown, he displaced
the bouquet and made room for Rischenheim beside him.
Anton's horses, of which he was not a little proud, made short
work of the distance to my home. The phaeton rattled up to the
door and both young men got out. The moment of their arrival
found the chancellor just leaving to return to his own home.
Helsing knew them both, and stopped to rally Anton on the matter
of his bouquet. Anton was famous for his bouquets, which he
distributed widely among the ladies of Strelsau.
"I hoped it was for my daughter," said the chancellor slyly. "For
I love flowers, and my wife has ceased to provide me with them;
moreover, I've ceased to provide her with them, so, but for my
daughter, we should have none."
Anton answered his chaff, promising a bouquet for the young lady
the next day, but declaring that he could not disappoint his
cousin. He was interrupted by Rischenheim, who, looking round on
the group of bystanders, now grown numerous, exclaimed: "What's
going on here, my dear chancellor? What are all these people
hanging about here for? Ah, that's a royal carriage!"
"The queen's with the countess," answered Helsing. "The people
are waiting to see her come out."
"She's always worth seeing," Anton pronounced, sticking his glass
in his eye.
"And you've been to visit her?" pursued Rischenheim.
"Why, yes. I--I went to pay my respects, my dear Rischenheim."
"An early visit!"
"It was more or less on business."
"Ah, I have business also, and very important business. But it's
with the king."
"I won't keep you a moment, Rischenheim," called Anton, as,
bouquet in hand, he knocked at the door.
"With the king?" said Helsing. "Ah, yes, but the king--"
"I'm on my way to the palace to find out where he is. If I can't
see him, I must write at once. My business is very urgent."
"Indeed, my dear count, indeed! Dear me! Urgent, you say?"
"But perhaps you can help me. Is he at Zenda?"
The chancellor was becoming very embarrassed; Anton had
disappeared into the house; Rischenheim buttonholed him
"At Zenda? Well, now, I don't--Excuse me, but what's your
"Excuse me, my dear chancellor; it's a secret."
"I have the king's confidence."
"Then you'll be indifferent to not enjoying mine," smiled
"I perceive that your arm is hurt," observed the chancellor,
seeking a diversion.
"Between ourselves, that has something to do with my business.
Well, I must go to the palace. Or--stay--would her Majesty
condescend to help me? I think I'll risk a request. She can but
refuse," and so saying Rischenheim approached the door.
"Oh, my friend, I wouldn't do that," cried Helsing, darting after
him. "The queen is--well, very much engaged. She won't like to
Rischenheim took no notice of him, but knocked loudly. The door
was opened, and he told the butler to carry his name to the queen
and beg a moment's speech with her. Helsing stood in perplexity
on the step. The crowd was delighted with the coming of these
great folk and showed no sign of dispersing. Anton von Strofzin
did not reappear. Rischenheim edged himself inside the doorway
and stood on the threshold of the hall. There he heard voices
proceeding from the sitting-room on the left. He recognized the
queen's, my wife's, and Anton's. Then came the butler's, saying,
"I will inform the count of your Majesty's wishes."
The door of the room opened; the butler appeared, and immediately
behind him Anton von Strofzin and Bernenstein. Bernenstein had
the young fellow by the arm, and hurried him through the hall.
They passed the butler, who made way for them, and came to where
"We meet again," said Rischenheim with a bow.
The chancellor rubbed his hands in nervous perturbation. The
butler stepped up and delivered his message: the queen regretted
her inability to receive the count. Rischenheim nodded, and,
standing so that the door could not be shut, asked Bernenstein
whether he knew where the king was.
Now Bernenstein was most anxious to get the pair of them away and
the door shut, but he dared show no eagerness.
"Do you want another interview with the king already?" he asked
with a smile. "The last was so pleasant, then?"
Rischenheim took no notice of the taunt, but observed
sarcastically: "There's a strange difficulty in finding our good
king. The chancellor here doesn't know where he is, or at least
he won't answer my questions."
"Possibly the king has his reasons for not wishing to be
disturbed," suggested Bernenstein.
"It's very possible," retorted Rischenheim significantly.
"Meanwhile, my dear count, I shall take it as a personal favor if
you'll move out of the doorway."
"Do I incommode you by standing here?" answered the count.
"Infinitely, my lord," answered Bernenstein stiffly.
"Hallo, Bernenstein, what's the matter?" cried Anton, seeing that
their tones and glances had grown angry. The crowd also had
noticed the raised voices and hostile manner of the disputants,
and began to gather round in a more compact group.
Suddenly a voice came from inside the hall: it was distinct and
loud, yet not without a touch of huskiness. The sound of it
hushed the rising quarrel and silenced the crowd into expectant
stillness. Bernenstein looked aghast, Rischenheim nervous yet
triumphant, Anton amused and gratified.
"The king!" he cried, and burst into a laugh. "You've drawn him,
The crowd heard his boyish exclamation and raised a cheer.
Helsing turned, as though to rebuke them. Had not the king
himself desired secrecy? Yes, but he who spoke as the king chose
any risk sooner than let Rischenheim go back and warn Rupert of
"Is that the Count of Luzau-Rischenheim?" called Rudolf from
within. "If so, let him enter and then shut the door."
There was something in his tone that alarmed Rischenheim. He
started back on the step. But Bernenstein caught him by the arm.
"Since you wish to come in, come in," he said with a grim smile.
Rischenheim looked round, as though he meditated flight. The next
moment Bernenstein was thrust aside. For one short instant a tall
figure appeared in the doorway; the crowd had but a glimpse, yet
they cheered again. Rischenheim's hand was clasped in a firm
grip; he passed unwillingly but helplessly through the door.
Bernenstein followed; the door was shut. Anton faced round on
Helsing, a scornful twist on his lips.
"There was a deuced lot of mystery about nothing," said he. "Why
couldn't you say he was there?" And without waiting for an answer
from the outraged and bewildered chancellor he swung down the
steps and climbed into his phaeton.
The people round were chatting noisily, delighted to have caught
a glimpse of the king, speculating what brought him and the queen
to my house, and hoping that they would soon come out and get
into the royal carriage that still stood waiting.
Had they been able to see inside the door, their emotion would
have been stirred to a keener pitch. Rudolf himself caught
Rischenheim by the arm, and without a moment's delay led him
towards the back of the house. They went along a passage and
reached a small room that looked out on the garden. Rudolf had
known my house in old days, and did not forget its resources.
"Shut the door, Bernenstein," said Rudolf. Then he turned to
Rischenheim. "My lord," he said, "I suppose you came to find out
something. Do you know it now?"
Rischenheim plucked up courage to answer him.
"Yes, I know now that I have to deal with an impostor," said he
"Precisely. And impostors can't afford to be exposed."
Rischenheim's cheek turned rather pale. Rudolf faced him, and
Bernenstein guarded the door. He was absolutely at their mercy;
and he knew their secret. Did they know his--the news that Rupert
of Hentzau had brought?
"Listen," said Rudolf. "For a few hours to-day I am king in
Strelsau. In those few hours I have an account to settle with
your cousin: something that he has, I must have. I'm going now to
seek him, and while I seek him you will stay here with
Bernenstein. Perhaps I shall fail, perhaps I shall succeed.
Whether I succeed or fail, by to-night I shall be far from
Strelsau, and the king's place will be free for him again."
Rischenheim gave a slight start, and a look of triumph spread
over his face. They did not know that the king was dead.
Rudolf came nearer to him, fixing his eyes steadily on his
"I don't know," he continued, "why you are in this business, my
lord. Your cousin's motives I know well. But I wonder that they
seemed to you great enough to justify the ruin of an unhappy lady
who is your queen. Be assured that I will die sooner than let
that letter reach the king's hand."
Rischenheim made him no answer.
"Are you armed?" asked Rudolf.
Rischenheim sullenly flung his revolver on the table. Bernenstein
came forward and took it.
"Keep him here, Bernenstein. When I return I'll tell you what
more to do. If I don't return, Fritz will be here soon, and you
and he must make your own plans."
"He sha'n't give me the slip a second time," said Bernenstein.
"We hold ourselves free," said Rudolf to Rischenheim, "to do what
we please with you, my lord. But I have no wish to cause your
death, unless it be necessary. You will be wise to wait till your
cousin's fate is decided before you attempt any further steps
against us." And with a slight bow he left the prisoner in
Bernenstein's charge, and went back to the room where the queen
awaited him. Helga was with her. The queen sprang up to meet him.
"I mustn't lose a moment," he said. "All that crowd of people
know now that the king is here. The news will filter through the
town in no time. We must send word to Sapt to keep it from the
king's ears at all costs: I must go and do my work, and then
The queen stood facing him. Her eyes seemed to devour his face;
but she said only: "Yes, it must be so."
"You must return to the palace as soon as I am gone. I shall send
out and ask the people to disperse, and then I must be off."
"To seek Rupert of Hentzau?"
She struggled for a moment with the contending feelings that
filled her heart. Then she came to him and seized hold of his
"Don't go," she said in low trembling tones. "Don't go, Rudolf.
He'll kill you. Never mind the letter. Don't go: I had rather a
thousand times that the king had it than that you should .... Oh,
my dear, don't go!"
"I must go," he said softly.
Again she began to implore him, but he would not yield. Helga
moved towards the door, but Rudolf stopped her.
"No," he said; "you must stay with her; you must go to the palace
Even as he spoke they heard the wheels of a carriage driven
quickly to the door. By now I had met Anton von Strofzin and
heard from him that the king was at my house. As I dashed up the
news was confirmed by the comments and jokes of the crowd.
"Ah, he's in a hurry," they said. "He's kept the king waiting.
He'll get a wigging."
As may be supposed, I paid little heed to them. I sprang out and
ran up the steps to the door. I saw my wife's face at the window:
she herself ran to the door and opened it for me.
"Good God," I whispered, "do all these people know he's here, and
take him for the king?"
"Yes," she said. "We couldn't help it. He showed himself at the
It was worse than I dreamt: not two or three people, but all that
crowd were victims of the mistake; all of them had heard that the
king was in Strelsau--ay, and had seen him.
"Where is he? Where is he?" I asked, and followed her hastily to
The queen and Rudolf were standing side by side. What I have told
from Helga's description had just passed between them. Rudolf ran
to meet me.
"Is all well?" he asked eagerly.
I forgot the queen's presence and paid no sign of respect to her.
I caught Rudolf by the arm and cried to him: "Do they take you
for the king?"
"Yes," he said. "Heavens, man, don't look so white! We shall
manage it. I can be gone by to-night."
"Gone? How will that help, since they believe you to be the
"You can keep it from the king," he urged. "I couldn't help it. I
can settle with Rupert and disappear."
The three were standing round me, surprised at my great and
terrible agitation. Looking back now, I wonder that I could speak
to them at all.
Rudolf tried again to reassure me. He little knew the cause of
what he saw.
"It won't take long to settle affairs with Rupert," said he. "And
we must have the letter, or it will get to the king after all."
"The king will never see the letter," I blurted out, as I sank
back in a chair.
They said nothing. I looked round on their faces. I had a strange
feeling of helplessness, and seemed to be able to do nothing but
throw the truth at them in blunt plainness. Let them make what
they could of it, I could make nothing.
"The king will never see the letter," I repeated. "Rupert himself
has insured that."
"What do you mean? You've not met Rupert? You've not got the
"No, no; but the king can never read it."
Then Rudolf seized me by the shoulder and fairly shook me; indeed
I must have seemed like a man in a dream or a torpor.
"Why not, man; why not?" he asked in urgent low tones. Again I
looked at them, but somehow this time my eyes were attracted and
held by the queen's face. I believe that she was the first to
catch a hint of the tidings I brought. Her lips were parted, and
her gaze eagerly strained upon me. I rubbed my hand across my
forehead, and, looking up stupidly at her, I said:
"He never can see the letter. He's dead."
There was a little scream from Helga; Rudolf neither spoke nor
moved; the queen continued to gaze at me in motionless wonder and
"Rupert killed him," said I. "The boar-hound attacked Rupert;
then Herbert and the king attacked him; and he killed them all.
Yes, the king is dead. He's dead."
Now none spoke. The queen's eyes never left my face. "Yes, he's
dead." said I; and I watched her eyes still. For a long while (or
long it seemed) they were on my face; at last, as though drawn by
some irresistible force, they turned away. I followed the new
line they took. She looked at Rudolf Rassendyll, and he at her.
Helga had taken out her handkerchief, and, utterly upset by the
horror and shock, was lying back in a low chair, sobbing
half-hysterically; I saw the swift look that passed from the
queen to her lover, carrying in it grief, remorse, and most
unwilling joy. He did not speak to her, but put out his hand and
took hers. She drew it away almost sharply, and covered her face
with both hands.
Rudolf turned to me. "When was it?"
"And the .... He's at the lodge?"
"Yes, with Sapt and James."
I was recovering my senses and my coolness.
"Nobody knows yet," I said. "We were afraid you might be taken
for him by somebody. But, my God, Rudolf, what's to be done now?"
Mr. Rassendyll's lips were set firm and tight. He frowned
slightly, and his blue eyes wore a curious entranced expression.
He seemed to me to be forgetful of everything, even of us who
were with him, in some one idea that possessed him. The queen
herself came nearer to him and lightly touched his arm with her
hand. He started as though surprised, then fell again into his
"What's to be done, Rudolf?" I asked again.
"I'm going to kill Rupert of Hentzau," he said. "The rest we'll
talk of afterwards."
He walked rapidly across the room and rang the bell. "Clear those
people away," he ordered. "Tell them that I want to be quiet.
Then send a closed carriage round for me. Don't be more than ten
The servant received his peremptory orders with a low bow, and
left us. The queen, who had been all this time outwardly calm and
composed, now fell into a great agitation, which even the
consciousness of our presence could not enable her to hide.
"Rudolf, must you go? Since--since this has happened--"
"Hush, my dearest lady," he whispered. Then he went on more
loudly, "I won't quit Ruritania a second time leaving Rupert of
Hentzau alive. Fritz, send word to Sapt that the king is in
Strelsau--he will understand--and that instructions from the king
will follow by midday. When I have killed Rupert, I shall visit
the lodge on my way to the frontier."
He turned to go, but the queen, following, detained him for a
"You'll come and see me before you go?" she pleaded.
"But I ought not," said he, his resolute eyes suddenly softening
in a marvelous fashion.
"Yes, my queen."
Then I sprang up, for a sudden dread laid hold on me.
"Heavens, man," I cried, "what if he kills you--there in the
Rudolf turned to me; there was a look of surprise on his face.
"He won't kill me," he answered.
The queen, looking still in Rudolf's face, and forgetful now, as
it seemed, of the dream that had so terrified her, took no notice
of what I said, but urged again: "You'll come, Rudolf?"
"Yes, once, my queen," and with a last kiss of her hand he was
The queen stood for yet another moment where she was, still and
almost rigid. Then suddenly she walked or stumbled to where my
wife sat, and, flinging herself on her knees, hid her face in
Helga's lap; I heard her sobs break out fast and tumultuously.
Helga looked up at me, the tears streaming down her cheeks. I
turned and went out. Perhaps Helga could comfort her; I prayed
that God in His pity might send her comfort, although she for her
sin's sake dared not ask it of Him. Poor soul! I hope there may
be nothing worse scored to my account.
CHAPTER XV. A PASTIME FOR COLONEL SAPT
THE Constable of Zenda and James, Mr. Rassendyll's servant, sat
at breakfast in the hunting-lodge. They were in the small room
which was ordinarily used as the bedroom of the gentleman in
attendance on the king: they chose it now because it commanded a
view of the approach. The door of the house was securely
fastened; they were prepared to refuse admission; in case refusal
was impossible, the preparations for concealing the king's body
and that of his huntsman Herbert were complete. Inquirers would
be told that the king had ridden out with his huntsman at
daybreak, promising to return in the evening but not stating
where he was going; Sapt was under orders to await his return,
and James was expecting instructions from his master the Count of
Tarlenheim. Thus armed against discovery, they looked for news
from me which should determine their future action.
Meanwhile there was an interval of enforced idleness. Sapt, his
meal finished, puffed away at his great pipe; James, after much
pressure, had consented to light a small black clay, and sat at
his ease with his legs stretched before him. His brows were knit,
and a curious half-smile played about his mouth.
"What may you be thinking about, friend James?" asked the
constable between two puffs. He had taken a fancy to the alert,
ready little fellow.
James smoked for a moment, and then took his pipe from his mouth.
"I was thinking, sir, that since the king is dead--"
"The king is no doubt dead, poor fellow," said Sapt, nodding.
"That since he's certainly dead, and since my master, Mr.
Rassendyll, is alive--"
"So far as we know, James," Sapt reminded him.
"Why, yes, sir, so far as we know. Since, then, Mr. Rassendyll is
alive and the king is dead, I was thinking that it was a great
pity, sir, that my master can't take his place and be king."
James looked across at the constable with an air of a man who
offers a respectful suggestion.
"A remarkable thought, James," observed the constable with a
"You don't agree with me, sir?, asked James deprecatingly.
"I don't say that it isn't a pity, for Rudolf makes a good king.
But you see it's impossible, isn't it?"
James nursed his knee between his hands, and his pipe, which he
had replaced, stuck out of one corner of his mouth.
"When you say impossible, sir," he remarked deferentially, "I
venture to differ from you."
"You do? Come, we're at leisure. Let's hear how it would be
"My master is in Strelsau, sir," began James.
"Well, most likely."
"I'm sure of it, sir. If he's been there, he will be taken for
"That has happened before, and no doubt may happen again,
"Why, of course, sir, unless the king's body should be
"That's what I was about to say, James."
James kept silence for a few minutes. Then he observed, "It will
be very awkward to explain how the king was killed."
"The story will need good telling," admitted Sapt.
"And it will be difficult to make it appear that the king was
killed in Strelsau; yet if my master should chance to be killed
"Heaven forbid, James! On all grounds, Heaven forbid!"
"Even if my master is not killed, it will be difficult for us to
get the king killed at the right time, and by means that will
Sapt seemed to fall into the humor of the speculation. "That's
all very true. But if Mr. Rassendyll is to be king, it will be
both awkward and difficult to dispose of the king's body and of
this poor fellow Herbert," said he, sucking at his pipe.
Again James paused for a little while before he remarked: "I am,
of course, sir, only discussing the matter by way of passing the
time. It would probably be wrong to carry any such plan into
"It might be, but let us discuss it--to pass the time," said
Sapt; and he leant forward, looking into the servant's quiet,
"Well, then, sir, since it amuses you, let us say that the king
came to the lodge last night, and was joined there by his friend
"And did I come too?"
"You, sir, came also, in attendance on the king."
"Well, and you, James? You came. How came you?"
"Why, sir, by the Count of Tarlenheim's orders, to wait on Mr.
Rassendyll, the king's friend. Now, the king, sir... This is my
story, you know, sir, only my story."
"Your story interests me. Go on with it."
"The king went out very early this morning, sir."
"That would be on private business?"
"So we should have understood. But Mr. Rassendyll, Herbert, and
ourselves remained here."
"Had the Count of Hentzau been?"
"Not to our knowledge, sir. But we were all tired and slept very
"Now did we?" said the constable, with a grim smile.
"In fact, sir, we were all overcome with fatigue--Mr. Rassendyll
like the rest--and full morning found us still in our beds. There
we should be to this moment, sir, had we not been suddenly
aroused in a startling and fearful manner."
"You should write story books, James. Now what was this fearful
manner in which we were aroused?"
James laid down his pipe, and, resting his hands on his knees,
continued his story.
"This lodge, sir, this wooden lodge--for the lodge is all of
wood, sir, without and within."
"This lodge is undoubtedly of wood, James, and, as you say, both
inside and out."
"And since it is, sir, it would be mighty careless to leave a
candle burning where the oil and firewood are stored."
"But hard words don't hurt dead men; and you see, sir, poor
Herbert is dead."
"It is true. He wouldn't feel aggrieved."
"But we, sir, you and I, awaking--"
"Aren't the others to awake, James?"
"Indeed, sir, I should pray that they had never awaked. For you
and I, waking first, would find the lodge a mass of flames. We
should have to run for our lives."
"What! Should we make no effort to rouse the others?"
"Indeed, sir, we should do all that men could do; we should even
risk death by suffocation."
"But we should fail, in spite of our heroism, should we?"
"Alas, sir, in spite of all our efforts we should fail. The
flames would envelop the lodge in one blaze; before help could
come, the lodge would be in ruins, and my unhappy master and poor
Herbert would be consumed to ashes."
"They would, at least, sir, be entirely unrecognizable."
"You think so?"
"Beyond doubt, if the oil and the firewood and the candle were
placed to the best advantage."
"Ah, yes. And there would be an end of Rudolf Rassendyll?"
"Sir, I should myself carry the tidings to his family."
"Whereas the King of Ruritania--"
"Would enjoy a long and prosperous reign, God willing, sir."
"And the Queen of Ruritania, James?"
"Do not misunderstand me, sir. They could be secretly married. I
should say re-married."
"Yes, certainly, re-married."
"By a trustworthy priest."
"You mean by an untrustworthy priest?"
"It's the same thing, sir, from a different point of view." For
the first time James smiled a thoughtful smile.
Sapt in his turn laid down his pipe now, and was tugging at his
moustache. There was a smile on his lips too, and his eyes looked
hard into James's. The little man met his glance composedly.
"It's an ingenious fancy, this of yours, James," the constable
remarked. "What, though, if your master's killed too? That's
quite possible. Count Rupert's a man to be reckoned with."
"If my master is killed, sir, he must be buried," answered James.
"In Strelsau?" came in quick question from Sapt.
"He won't mind where, sir."
"True, he won't mind, and we needn't mind for him."
"Why, no, sir. But to carry a body secretly from here to
"Yes, that is, as we agreed at the first, difficult. Well, it's a
pretty story, but--your master wouldn't approve of it. Supposing
he were not killed, I mean."
"It's a waste of time, sir, disapproving of what's done: he might
think the story better than the truth, although it's not a good
The two men's eyes met again in a long glance.
"Where do you come from?" asked Sapt, suddenly.
"London, sir, originally."
"They make good stories there?"
"Yes, sir, and act them sometimes."
The instant he had spoken, James sprang to his feet and pointed
out of the window.
A man on horseback was cantering towards the lodge. Exchanging
one quick look, both hastened to the door, and, advancing some
twenty yards, waited under the tree on the spot where Boris lay
"By the way," said Sapt, "you forgot the dog." And he pointed to
"The affectionate beast will be in his master's room and die
"Eh, but he must rise again first!"
"Certainly, sir. That won't be a long matter."
Sapt was still smiling in grim amusement when the messenger came
up and, leaning from his home, handed him a telegram.
"Special and urgent, sir," said he.
Sapt tore it open and read. It was the message that I sent in
obedience to Mr. Rassendyll's orders. He would not trust my
cipher, but, indeed, none was necessary. Sapt would understand
the message, although it said simply, "The king is in Strelsau.
Wait orders at the lodge. Business here in progress, but not
finished. Will wire again."
Sapt handed it to James, who took it with a respectful little
bow. James read it with attention, and returned it with another
"I'll attend to what it says, sir," he remarked.
"Yes," said Sapt. "Thanks, my man," he added to the messenger.
"Here's a crown for you. If any other message comes for me and
you bring it in good time, you shall have another."
"You shall have it quick as a horse can bring it from the
"The king's business won't bear delay, you know," nodded Sapt.
"You sha'n't have to wait, sir," and, with a parting salute, the
fellow turned his horse and trotted away.
"You see," remarked Sapt, "that your story is quite imaginary.
For that fellow can see for himself that the lodge was not burnt
down last night."
"That's true; but, excuse me, sir--"
"Pray go on, James. I've told you that I'm interested."
"He can't see that it won't be burnt down to-night. A fire, sir,
is a thing that may happen any night."
Then old Sapt suddenly burst into a roar, half-speech, half
"By God, what a thing!" he roared; and James smiled complacently.
"There's a fate about it," said the constable. "There's a strange
fate about it. The man was born to it. We'd have done it before
if Michael had throttled the king in that cellar, as I thought he
would. Yes, by heavens, we'd have done it! Why, we wanted it! God
forgive us, in our hearts both Fritz and I wanted it. But Rudolf
would have the king out. He would have him out, though he lost a
throne--and what he wanted more--by it. But he would have him
out. So he thwarted the fate. But it's not to be thwarted. Young
Rupert may think this new affair is his doing. No, it's the fate
using him. The fate brought Rudolf here again, the fate will have
him king. Well, you stare at me. Do you think I'm mad, Mr.
"I think, sir, that you talk very good sense, if I may say so,"
"Sense?" echoed Sapt with a chuckle. "I don't know about that.
But the fate's there, depend on it!"
The two were back in their little room now, past the door that
hid the bodies of the king and his huntsman. James stood by the
table, old Sapt roamed up and down, tugging his moustache, and
now and again sawing the air with his sturdy hairy hand.
"I daren't do it," he muttered: "I daren't do it. It's a thing a
man can't set his hand to of his own will. But the fate'll do
it--the fate'll do it. The fate'll force it on us."
"Then we'd best be ready, sir," suggested James quietly. Sapt
turned on him quickly, almost fiercely.
"They used to call me a cool hand," said he. "By Jove, what are
"There's no harm in being ready, sir," said James, the servant.
Sapt came to him and caught hold of his shoulders. "Ready?" he
asked in a gruff whisper.
"The oil, the firewood, the light," said James.
"Where, man, where? Do you mean, by the bodies?"
"Not where the bodies are now. Each must be in the proper place."
"We must move them then?"
"Why, yes. And the dog too."
Sapt almost glared at him; then he burst into a laugh.
"So be it," he said. "You take command. Yes, we'll be ready. The
Then and there they set about what they had to do. It seemed
indeed as though some strange influence were dominating Sapt; he
went about the work like a man who is hardly awake. They placed
the bodies each where the living man would be by night--the king
in the guest-room, the huntsman in the sort of cupboard where the
honest fellow had been wont to lie. They dug up the buried dog,
Sapt chuckling convulsively, James grave as the mute whose grim
doings he seemed to travesty: they carried the shot-pierced,
earth-grimed thing in, and laid it in the king's room. Then they
made their piles of wood, pouring the store of oil over them, and
setting bottles of spirit near, that the flames having cracked
the bottles, might gain fresh fuel. To Sapt it seemed now as if
they played some foolish game that was to end with the playing,
now as if they obeyed some mysterious power which kept its great
purpose hidden from its instruments. Mr. Rassendyll's servant
moved and arranged and ordered all as deftly as he folded his
master's clothes or stropped his master's razor. Old Sapt stopped
him once as he went by.
"Don't think me a mad fool, because I talk of the fate," he said,
"Not I, sir," answered James, "I know nothing of that. But I like
to be ready."
"It would be a thing!" muttered Sapt.
The mockery, real or assumed, in which they had begun their work,
had vanished now. If they were not serious, they played at
seriousness. If they entertained no intention such as their acts
seemed to indicate, they could no longer deny that they had
cherished a hope. They shrank, or at least Sapt shrank, from
setting such a ball rolling; but they longed for the fate that
would give it a kick, and they made smooth the incline down which
it, when thus impelled, was to run. When they had finished their
task and sat down again opposite to one another in the little
front room, the whole scheme was ready, the preparations were
made, all was in train; they waited only for that impulse from
chance or fate which was to turn the servant's story into reality
and action. And when the thing was done, Sapt's coolness, so
rarely upset, yet so completely beaten by the force of that wild
idea, came back to him. He lit his pipe again and lay back in his
chair, puffing freely, with a meditative look on his face.
"It's two o'clock, sir," said James. "Something should have
happened before now in Strelsau."
"Ah, but what?" asked the constable.
Suddenly breaking on their ears came a loud knock at the door.
Absorbed in their own thoughts, they had not noticed two men
riding up to the lodge. The visitors wore the green and gold of
the king's huntsmen; the one who had knocked was Simon, the chief
huntsman, and brother of Herbert, who lay dead in the little room
"Rather dangerous!" muttered the Constable of Zenda as he hurried
to the door, James following him.
Simon was astonished when Sapt opened the door.
"Beg pardon, Constable, but I want to see Herbert. Can I go in?"
And he jumped down from his horse, throwing the reins to his
"What's the good of your going in?" asked Sapt. "Herbert's not
"Not here? Then where is he?"
"Why, he went with the king this morning."
"Oh, he went with the king, sir? Then he's in Strelsau, I
"If you know that, Simon, you're wiser than I am."
"But the king is in Strelsau, sir."
"The deuce he is! He said nothing of going to Strelsau. He rose
early and rode off with Herbert, merely saying they would be back
"He went to Strelsau, sir. I am just from Zenda, and his Majesty
is known to have been in town with the queen. They were both at
"I'm much interested to hear it. But didn't the telegram say
where Herbert was?"
"Herbert's not a king, you see," he said. "Well, I'll come again
to-morrow morning, for I must see him soon. He'll be back by
"Yes, Simon, your brother will be here to-morrow morning."
"Or what's left of him after such a two-days of work," suggested
"Why, yes, precisely," said Sapt, biting his moustache and
darting one swift glance at James. "Or what's left of him, as you
"And I'll bring a cart and carry the boar down to the castle at
the same time, sir. At least, I suppose you haven't eaten it all?
Sapt laughed; Simon was gratified at the tribute, and laughed
even more heartily himself.
"We haven't even cooked it yet," said Sapt, "but I won't answer
for it that we sha'n't have by to-morrow."
"All right, sir; I'll be here. By the way, there's another bit of
news come on the wires. They say Count Rupert of Hentzau has been
seen in the city."
"Rupert of Hentzau? Oh, pooh! Nonsense, my good Simon. He daren't
show his face there for his life."
"Ah, but it may be no nonsense. Perhaps that's what took the king
"It's enough to take him if it's true," admitted Sapt.
"Well, good day, sir."
"Good day, Simon."
The two huntsmen rode off. James watched them for a little while.
"The king," he said then, "is known to be in Strelsau; and now
Count Rupert is known to be in Strelsau. How is Count Rupert to
have killed the king here in the forest of Zenda, sir?"
Sapt looked at him almost apprehensively.
"How is the king's body to come to the forest of Zenda?" asked
James. "Or how is the king's body to go to the city of Strelsau?"
"Stop your damned riddles!" roared Sapt. "Man, are you bent on
driving me into it?"
The servant came near to him, and laid a hand on his shoulder.
"You went into as great a thing once before, sir," said he.
"It was to save the king."
"And this is to save the queen and yourself. For if we don't do
it, the truth about my master must be known."
Sapt made him no answer. They sat down again in silence.
There they sat, sometimes smoking, never speaking, while the
tedious afternoon wore away, and the shadows from the trees of
the forest lengthened. They did not think of eating or drinking;
they did not move, save when James rose and lit a little fire of
brushwood in the grate. It grew dusk and again James moved to
light the lamp. It was hard on six o'clock, and still no news
came from Strelsau.
Then there was the sound of a horse's hoofs. The two rushed to
the door, beyond it, and far along the grassy road that gave
approach to the hunting-lodge. They forgot to guard the secret
and the door gaped open behind them. Sapt ran as he had not run
for many a day, and outstripped his companion. There was a
message from Strelsau!
The constable, without a word of greeting, snatched the envelope
from the hand of the messenger and tore it open. He read it
hastily, muttering under his breath "Good God!, Then he turned
suddenly round and began to walk quickly back to James, who,
seeing himself beaten in the race, had dropped to a walk. But the
messenger had his cares as well as the constable. If the
constable's thoughts were on a crown, so were his. He called out
in indignant protest:
"I have never drawn rein since Hofbau, sir. Am I not to have my
Sapt stopped, turned, and retraced his steps. He took a crown
from his pocket. As he looked up in giving it, there was a queer
smile on his broad, weather-beaten face.
"Ay," he said, "every man that deserves a crown shall have one,
if I can give it him."
Then he turned again to James, who had now come up, and laid his
hand on his shoulder.
"Come along, my king-maker," said he.
James looked in his face for a moment. The constable's eyes met
his; and the constable nodded.
So they turned to the lodge where the dead king and his huntsman
lay. Verily the fate drove.
CHAPTER XVI. A CROWD IN THE KONIGSTRASSE
The project that had taken shape in the thoughts of Mr.
Rassendyll's servant, and had inflamed Sapt's daring mind as the
dropping of a spark kindles dry shavings, had suggested itself
vaguely to more than one of us in Strelsau. We did not indeed
coolly face and plan it, as the little servant had, nor seize on
it at once with an eagerness to be convinced of its necessity,
like the Constable of Zenda; but it was there in my mind,
sometimes figuring as a dread, sometimes as a hope, now seeming
the one thing to be avoided, again the only resource against a
more disastrous issue. I knew that it was in Bernenstein's
thoughts no less than in my own; for neither of us had been able
to form any reasonable scheme by which the living king, whom half
Strelsau now knew to be in the city, could be spirited away, and
the dead king set in his place. The change could take place, as
it seemed, only in one way and at one cost: the truth, or the
better part of it, must be told, and every tongue set wagging
with gossip and guesses concerning Rudolf Rassendyll and his
relations with the queen. Who that knows what men and women are
would not have shrunk from that alternative? To adopt it was to
expose the queen to all or nearly all the peril she had run by
the loss of the letter. We indeed assumed, influenced by Rudolf's
unhesitating self-confidence, that the letter would be won back,
and the mouth of Rupert of Hentzau shut; but enough would remain
to furnish material for eager talk and for conjectures
unrestrained by respect or charity. Therefore, alive as we were
to its difficulties and its unending risks, we yet conceived of
the thing as possible, had it in our hearts, and hinted it to one
another--my wife to me, I to Bernenstein, and he to me--in quick
glances and half uttered sentences that declared its presence
while shunning the open confession of it. For the queen herself I
cannot speak. Her thoughts, as I judged them, were bounded by the
longing to see Mr. Rassendyll again, and dwelt on the visit that
he promised as the horizon of hope. To Rudolf we had dared to
disclose nothing of the part our imaginations set him to play: if
he were to accept it, the acceptance would be of his own act,
because the fate that old Sapt talked of drove him, and on no
persuasion of ours. As he had said, he left the rest, and had
centered all his efforts on the immediate task which fell to his
hand to perform, the task that was to be accomplished at the
dingy old house in the Konigstrasse. We were indeed awake to the
fact that even Rupert's death would not make the secret safe.
Rischenheim, although for the moment a prisoner and helpless, was
alive and could not be mewed up for ever; Bauer was we knew not
where, free to act and free to talk. Yet in our hearts we feared
none but Rupert, and the doubt was not whether we could do the
thing so much as whether we should. For in moments of excitement
and intense feeling a man makes light of obstacles which look
large enough as he turns reflective eyes on them in the quiet of
A message in the king's name had persuaded the best part of the
idle crowd to disperse reluctantly. Rudolf himself had entered
one of my carriages and driven off. He started not towards the
Konigstrasse, but in the opposite direction: I supposed that he
meant to approach his destination by a circuitous way, hoping to
gain it without attracting notice. The queen's carriage was still
before my door, for it had been arranged that she was to proceed
to the palace and there await tidings. My wife and I were to
accompany her; and I went to her now, where she sat alone, and
asked if it were her pleasure to start at once. I found her
thoughtful but calm. She listened to me; then, rising, she said,
"Yes, I will go." But then she asked suddenly, "Where is the
Count of Luzau-Rischenheim?"
I told her how Bernenstein kept guard over the count in the room
at the back of the house. She seemed to consider for a moment,
then she said:
"I will see him. Go and bring him to me. You must be here while I
talk to him, but nobody else."
I did not know what she intended, but I saw no reason to oppose
her wishes, and I was glad to find for her any means of employing
this time of suspense. I obeyed her commands and brought
Rischenheim to her. He followed me slowly and reluctantly; his
unstable mind had again jumped from rashness to despondency: he
was pale and uneasy, and, when he found himself in her presence,
the bravado of his bearing, maintained before Bernenstein, gave
place to a shamefaced sullenness. He could not meet the grave
eyes that she fixed on him.
I withdrew to the farther end of the room; but it was small, and
I heard all that passed. I had my revolver ready to cover
Rischenheim in case he should be moved to make a dash for
liberty. But he was past that: Rupert's presence was a tonic that
nerved him to effort and to confidence, but the force of the last
dose was gone and the man was sunk again to his natural
"My lord," she began gently, motioning him to sit, "I have
desired to speak with you, because I do not wish a gentleman of
your rank to think too much evil of his queen. Heaven has willed
that my secret should be to you no secret, and therefore I may
speak plainly. You may say my own shame should silence me; I
speak to lessen my shame in your eyes, if I can."
Rischenheim looked up with a dull gaze, not understanding her
mood. He had expected reproaches, and met low-voiced apology.
"And yet," she went on, "it is because of me that the king lies
dead now; and a faithful humble fellow also, caught in the net of
my unhappy fortunes, has given his life for me, though he didn't
know it. Even while we speak, it may be that a gentleman, not too
old yet to learn nobility, may be killed in my quarrel; while
another, whom I alone of all that know him may not praise,
carries his life lightly in his hand for me. And to you, my lord,
I have done the wrong of dressing a harsh deed in some cloak of
excuse, making you seem to serve the king in working my
Rischenheim's eyes fell to the ground, and he twisted his hands
nervously in and out, the one about the other. I took my hand
from my revolver: he would not move now.
"I don't know," she went on, now almost dreamily, and as though
she spoke more to herself than to him, or had even forgotten his
presence, "what end in Heaven's counsel my great unhappiness has
served. Perhaps I, who have place above most women, must also be
tried above most; and in that trial I have failed. Yet, when I
weigh my misery and my temptation, to my human eyes it seems that
I have not failed greatly. My heart is not yet humbled, God's
work not yet done. But the guilt of blood is on my soul--even
the face of my dear love I can see now only through its scarlet
mist; so that if what seemed my perfect joy were now granted me,
it would come spoilt and stained and blotched."
She paused, fixing her eyes on him again; but he neither spoke
"You knew my sin," she said, "the sin so great in my heart; and
you knew how little my acts yielded to it. Did you think, my
lord, that the sin had no punishment, that you took it in hand to
add shame to my suffering? Was Heaven so kind that men must
temper its indulgence by their severity? Yet I know that because
I was wrong, you, being wrong, might seem to yourself not wrong,
and in aiding your kinsman might plead that you served the king's
honor. Thus, my lord, I was the cause in you of a deed that your
heart could not welcome nor your honor praise. I thank God that
you have come to no more hurt by it."
Rischenheim began to mutter in a low thick voice, his eyes still
cast down: "Rupert persuaded me. He said the king would be very
grateful, and--would give me--" His voice died away, and he sat
silent again, twisting his hands.
"I know--I know," she said. "But you wouldn't have listened to
such persuasions if my fault hadn't blinded your eyes."
She turned suddenly to me, who had been standing all the while
aloof, and stretched out her hands towards me, her eyes filled
"Yet," said she, "your wife knows, and still loves me, Fritz."
"She should be no wife of mine, if she didn't," I cried. "For I
and all of mine ask no better than to die for your Majesty."
"She knows, and yet she loves me," repeated the queen. I loved to
see that she seemed to find comfort in Helga's love. It is women
to whom women turn, and women whom women fear.
"But Helga writes no letters," said the queen.
"Why, no," said I, and I smiled a grim smile. Well, Rudolf
Rassendyll had never wooed my wife.
She rose, saying: "Come, let us go to the palace."
As she rose, Rischenheim made a quick impulsive step towards her.
"Well, my lord," said she, turning towards him, "will you also go
"Lieutenant von Bernenstein will take care--" I began. But I
stopped. The slightest gesture of her hand silenced me.
"Will you go with me?" she asked Rischenheim again.
"Madam," he stammered, "Madam--"
She waited. I waited also, although I had no great patience with
him. Suddenly he fell on his knee, but he did not venture to take
her hand. Of her own accord she came and stretched it out to him,
saying sadly: "Ah, that by forgiving I could win forgiveness!"
Rischenheim caught at her hand and kissed it.
"It was not I," I heard him mutter. "Rupert set me on, and I
couldn't stand out against him."
"Will you go with me to the palace?" she asked, drawing her hand
away, but smiling.
"The Count of Luzau-Rischenheim," I made bold to observe, "knows
some things that most people do not know, madam." She turned on
me with dignity, almost with displeasure.
"The Count of Luzau-Rischenheim may be trusted to be silent," she
said. "We ask him to do nothing against his cousin. We ask only
"Ay," said I, braving her anger, "but what security shall we
"His word of honor, my lord." I knew that a rebuke to my
presumption lay in her calling me "my lord," for, save on formal
occasions, she always used to call me Fritz.
"His word of honor!" I grumbled. "In truth, madam--"
"He's right," said Rischenheim; "he's right."
"No, he's wrong," said the queen, smiling. "The count will keep
his word, given to me."
Rischenheim looked at her and seemed about to address her, but
then he turned to me, and said in a low tone:
"By Heaven, I will, Tarlenheim. I'll serve her in everything--"
"My lord," said she most graciously, and yet very sadly, "you
lighten the burden on me no less by your help than because I no
longer feel your honor stained through me. Come, we will go to
the palace." And she went to him, saying, "We will go together."
There was nothing for it but to trust him. I knew that I could
not turn her.
"Then I'll see if the carriage is ready," said I.
"Yes, do, Fritz," said the queen. But as I passed she stopped me
for a moment, saying in a whisper, "Show that you trust him."
I went and held out my hand to him. He took and pressed it.
"On my honor," he said.
Then I went out and found Bernenstein sitting on a bench in the
hall. The lieutenant was a diligent and watchful young man; he
appeared to be examining his revolver with sedulous care.
"You can put that away," said I rather peevishly--I had not
fancied shaking hands with Rischenheim. "He's not a prisoner any
longer. He's one of us now."
"The deuce he is!" cried Bernenstein, springing to his feet.
I told him briefly what had happened, and how the queen had won
Rupert's instrument to be her servant.
"I suppose he'll stick to it," I ended; and I thought he would,
though I was not eager for his help.
A light gleamed in Bernenstein's eyes, and I felt a tremble in
the hand that he laid on my shoulder.
"Then there's only Bauer now," he whispered. "If Rischenheim's
with us, only Bauer!"
I knew very well what he meant. With Rischenheim silent, Bauer
was the only man, save Rupert himself, who knew the truth, the
only man who threatened that great scheme which more and more
filled our thoughts and grew upon us with an increasing force of
attraction as every obstacle to it seemed to be cleared out of
the way. But I would not look at Bernenstein, fearing to
acknowledge even with my eyes how my mind jumped with his. He was
bolder, or less scrupulous--which you will.
"Yes, if we can shut Bauer's mouth." he went on.
"The queen's waiting for the carriage," I interrupted snappishly.
"Ah, yes, of course, the carriage," and he twisted me round till
I was forced to look him in the face. Then he smiled, and even
laughed a little.
"Only Bauer now!" said he.
"And Rupert," I remarked sourly.
"Oh, Rupert's dead bones by now," he chuckled, and with that he
went out of the hall door and announced the queen's approach to
her servants. It must be said for young Bernenstein that he was a
cheerful fellow-conspirator. His equanimity almost matched
Rudolf's own; I could not rival it myself.
I drove to the palace with the queen and my wife, the other two
following in a second carriage. I do not know what they said to
one another on the way, but Bernenstein was civil enough to his
companion when I rejoined them. With us my wife was the principal
speaker: she filled up, from what Rudolf had told her, the gaps
in our knowledge of how he had spent his night in Strelsau, and
by the time we arrived we were fully informed in every detail.
The queen said little. The impulse which had dictated her appeal
to Rischenheim and carried her through it seemed to have died
away; she had become again subject to fears and apprehension. I
saw her uneasiness when she suddenly put out her hand and touched
"He must be at the house by now."
Our way did not lie by the house, and we came to the palace
without any news of our absent chief (so I call him--as such we
all, from the queen herself, then regarded him). She did not
speak of him again; but her eyes seemed to follow me about as
though she were silently asking some service of me; what it was I
could not understand. Bernenstein had disappeared, and the
repentant count with him: knowing they were together, I was in no
uneasiness; Bernenstein would see that his companion contrived no
treachery. But I was puzzled by the queen's tacit appeal. And I
was myself on fire for news from the Konigstrasse. It was now
two hours since Rudolf Rassendyll had left us, and no word had
come of him or from him. At last I could bear it no longer. The
queen was sitting with her hand in my wife's; I had been seated
on the other side of the room, for I thought that they might wish
to talk to one another; yet I had not seen them exchange a word.
I rose abruptly and crossed the room to where they were.
"Have you need of my presence, madam, or have I your permission
to be away for a time?" I asked.
"Where do you wish to go, Fritz?" the queen asked with a little
start, as though I had come suddenly across her thoughts.
"To the Konigstrasse," said I.
To my surprise she rose and caught my hand.
"God bless you, Fritz!" she cried. "I don't think I could have
endured it longer. But I wouldn't ask you to go. But go, my dear
friend, go and bring me news of him. Oh, Fritz, I seem to dream
that dream again!"
My wife looked up at me with a brave smile and a trembling lip.
"Shall you go into the house, Fritz?" she asked.
"Not unless I see need, sweetheart," said I.
She came and kissed me. "Go, if you are wanted," she said. And
she tried to smile at the queen, as though she risked me
"I could have been such a wife, Fritz," whispered the queen.
"Yes, I could."
I had nothing to say; at the moment I might not have been able to
say it if I had. There is something in the helpless courage of
women that makes me feel soft. We can work and fight; they sit
and wait. Yet they do not flinch. Now I know that if I had to sit
and think about the thing I should turn cur.
Well, I went, leaving them there together. I put on plain clothes
instead of my uniform, and dropped my revolver into the pocket of
my coat. Thus prepared, I slipped out and made my way on foot to
It was now long past midday, but many folks were at their dinner
and the streets were not full. Two or three people recognized me,
but I passed by almost unnoticed. There was no sign of stir or
excitement, and the flags still floated high in the wind. Sapt
had kept his secret; the men of Strelsau thought still that their
king lived and was among them. I feared that Rudolf's coming
would have been seen, and expected to find a crowd of people near
the house. But when I reached it there were no more than ten or a
dozen idle fellows lounging about. I began to stroll up and down
with as careless an air as I could assume.
Soon, however, there was a change. The workmen and business folk,
their meal finished, began to come out of their houses and from
the restaurants. The loafers before No. 19 spoke to many of them.
Some said, "Indeed?" shook their heads, smiled and passed on:
they had no time to waste in staring at the king. But many
waited; lighting their cigars or cigarettes or pipes, they stood
gossiping with one another, looking at their watches now and
again, lest they should overstay their leisure. Thus the assembly
grew to the number of a couple of hundred. I ceased my walk, for
the pavement was too crowded, and hung on the outskirts of the
throng. As I loitered there, a cigar in my mouth, I felt a hand
on my shoulder. Turning round, I saw the lieutenant. He was in
uniform. By his side was Rischenheim.
"You're here too, are you?" said I. "Well, nothing seems to be
happening, does it?"
For No. 19 showed no sign of life. The shutters were up, the door
closed; the little shop was not open for business that day.
Bernenstein shook his head with a smile. His companion took no
heed of my remark; he was evidently in a state of great
agitation, and his eyes never left the door of the house. I was
about to address him, when my attention was abruptly and
completely diverted by a glimpse of a head, caught across the
shoulders of the bystanders.
The fellow whom I saw wore a brown wide-awake hat. The hat was
pulled down low over his forehead, but nevertheless beneath its
rim there appeared a white bandage running round his head. I
could not see the face, but the bullet-shaped skull was very
familiar to me. I was sure from the first moment that the
bandaged man was Bauer. Saying nothing to Bernenstein, I began to
steal round outside the crowd. As I went, I heard somebody saying
that it was all nonsense; the king was not there: what should the
king do in such a house? The answer was a reference to one of the
first loungers; he replied that he did not know what the devil
the king did there, but that the king or his double had certainly
gone in, and had as certainly not yet come out again. I wished I
could have made myself known to them and persuaded them to go
away; but my presence would have outweighed my declarations, and
been taken as a sure sign that the king was in the house. So I
kept on the outskirts and worked my way unobtrusively towards the
bandaged head. Evidently Bauer's hurt had not been so serious as
to prevent him leaving the infirmary to which the police had
carried him: he was come now to await, even as I was awaiting,
the issue of Rudolf's visit to the house in the Konigstrasse.
He had not seen me, for he was looking at No. 19 as intently as
Rischenheim. Apparently neither had caught sight of the other, or
Rischenheim would have shown some embarrassment, Bauer some
excitement. I wormed my way quickly towards my former servant. My
mind was full of the idea of getting hold of him. I could not
forget Bernenstein's remark, "Only Bauer now!" If I could secure
Bauer we were safe. Safe in what? I did not answer to myself, but
the old idea was working in me. Safe in our secret and safe in
our plan--in the plan on which we all, we here in the city, and
those two at the hunting-lodge, had set our minds! Bauer's death,
Bauer's capture, Bauer's silence, however procured, would clear
the greatest hindrance from its way.
Bauer stared intently at the house; I crept cautiously up behind
him. His hand was in his trousers' pocket; where the curve of the
elbow came there with a space between arm and body. I slipped in
my left arm and hooked it firmly inside his. He turned round and
"Thus we meet again, Bauer," said I.
He was for a moment flabbergasted, and stared stupidly at me.
"Are you also hoping to see the king?" I asked.
He began to recover himself. A slow, cunning smile spread over
"The king?" he asked.
"Well, he's in Strelsau, isn't he? Who gave you the wound on your
Bauer moved his arm as though he meant to withdraw it from my
grasp. He found himself tightly held.
"Where's that bag of mine?" I asked.
I do not know what he would have answered, for at this instant
there came a sound from behind the closed door of the house. It
was as if some one ran rapidly and eagerly towards the door. Then
came an oath in a shrill voice, a woman's voice, but harsh and
rough. It was answered by an angry cry in a girl's intonation.
Full of eagerness, I drew my arm from Bauer's and sprang forward.
I heard a chuckle from him and turned round, to see his bandaged
head retreating rapidly down the street. I had no time to look to
him, for now I saw two men, shoulder to shoulder, making their
way through the crowd, regardless of any one in their way, and
paying no attention to abuse or remonstrances. They were the
lieutenant and Rischenheim. Without a moment's hesitation I set
myself to push and battle a way through, thinking to join them in
front. On they went, and on I went. All gave place before us in
surly reluctance or frightened willingness. We three were
together in the first rank of the crowd when the door of the
house was flung open, and a girl ran out. Her hair was
disordered, her face pale, and her eyes full of alarm. There she
stood on the doorstep, facing the crowd, which in an instant grew
as if by magic to three times its former size, and, little
knowing what she did, she cried in the eager accents of sheer
"Help, help! The king! The king!"
CHAPTER XVII. YOUNG RUPERT AND THE PLAY-ACTOR
There rises often before my mind the picture of young Rupert,
standing where Rischenheim left him, awaiting the return of his
messenger and watching for some sign that should declare to
Strelsau the death of its king which his own hand had wrought.
His image is one that memory holds clear and distinct, though
time may blur the shape of greater and better men, and the
position in which he was that morning gives play enough to the
imagination. Save for Rischenheim, a broken reed, and Bauer, who
was gone, none knew where, he stood alone against a kingdom which
he had robbed of its head, and a band of resolute men who would
know no rest and no security so long as he lived. For protection
he had only a quick brain, his courage, and his secret. Yet he
could not fly--he was without resources till his cousin furnished
them--and at any moment his opponents might find themselves able
to declare the king's death and raise the city in hue and cry
after him. Such men do not repent; but it may be that he
regretted the enterprise which had led him on so far and forced
on him a deed so momentous; yet to those who knew him it seems
more likely that the smile broadened on his firm full lips as he
looked down on the unconscious city. Well, I daresay he would
have been too much for me, but I wish I had been the man to find
him there. He would not have had it so; for I believe that he
asked no better than to cross swords again with Rudolf Rassendyll
and set his fortunes on the issue.
Down below, the old woman was cooking a stew for her dinner, now
and then grumbling to herself that the Count of Luzau-Rischenheim
was so long away, and Bauer, the rascal, drunk in some pot-house.
The kitchen door stood open, and through it could be seen the
girl Rosa, busily scrubbing the tiled floor; her color was high
and her eyes bright; from time to time she paused in her task,
and, raising her head, seemed to listen. The time at which the
king needed her was past, but the king had not come. How little
the old woman knew for whom she listened! All her talk had been
of Bauer--why Bauer did not come and what could have befallen
him. It was grand to hold the king's secret for him, and she
would hold it with her life; for he had been kind and gracious to
her, and he was her man of all the men in Strelsau. Bauer was a
stumpy fellow; the Count of Hentzau was handsome, handsome as the
devil; but the king was her man. And the king had trusted her;
she would die before hurt should come to him.
There were wheels in the street--quick-rolling wheels. They
seemed to stop a few doors away, then to roll on again past the
house. The girl's head was raised; the old woman, engrossed in
her stewing, took no heed. The girl's straining ear caught a
rapid step outside. Then it came--the knock, the sharp knock
followed by five light ones. The old woman heard now: dropping