Part 5 out of 6
her spoon into the pot, she lifted the mess off the fire and
turned round, saying: "There's the rogue at last! Open the door
for him, Rosa."
Before she spoke Rosa had darted down the passage. The door
opened and shut again. The old woman waddled to the threshold of
the kitchen. The passage and the shop were dark behind the closed
shutters, but the figure by the girl's side was taller than
"Who's there?" cried Mother Holf sharply. "The shop's shut
to-day: you can't come in."
"But I am in," came the answer, and Rudolf stepped towards her.
The girl followed a pace behind, her hands clasped and her eyes
alight with excitement. "Don't you know me?" asked Rudolf,
standing opposite the old woman and smiling down on her.
There, in the dim light of the low-roofed passage, Mother Holf
was fairly puzzled. She knew the story of Mr. Rassendyll; she
knew that he was again in Ruritania, it was no surprise to her
that he should be in Strelsau; but she did not know that Rupert
had killed the king, and she had not seen the king close at hand
since his illness and his beard impaired what had been a perfect
likeness. In fine, she could not tell whether it were indeed the
king who spoke to her or his counterfeit.
"Who are you?" she asked, curt and blunt in her confusion. The
girl broke in with an amused laugh.
"Why, it's the--" She paused. Perhaps the king's identity was a
Rudolf nodded to her. "Tell her who I am," said he.
"Why, mother, it's the king," whispered Rosa, laughing and
blushing. "The king, mother."
"Ay, if the king's alive, I'm the king," said Rudolf. I suppose
he wanted to find out how much the old woman knew.
She made no answer, but stared up at his face. In her
bewilderment she forgot to ask how he had learnt the signal that
gained him admission.
"I've come to see the Count of Hentzau," Rudolf continued. "Take
me to him at once."
The old woman was across his path in a moment, all defiant, arms
"Nobody can see the count. He's not here," she blurted out.
"What, can't the king see him? Not even the king?"
"King!" she cried, peering at him. "Are you the king?"
Rosa burst out laughing.
"Mother, you must have seen the king a hundred times," she
"The king, or his ghost--what does it matter?" said Rudolf
The old woman drew back with an appearance of sudden alarm.
"His ghost? Is he?"
"His ghost!" rang out in the girl's merry laugh. "Why, here's the
king himself, mother. You don't look much like a ghost, sir."
Mother Holf's face was livid now, and her eyes staring fixedly.
Perhaps it shot into her brain that something had happened to the
king, and that this man had come because of it--this man who was
indeed the image, and might have been the spirit, of the king.
She leant against the door post, her broad bosom heaving under
her scanty stuff gown. Yet still--was it not the king?
"God help us!" she muttered in fear and bewilderment.
"He helps us, never fear," said Rudolf Rassendyll. "Where is
The girl had caught alarm from her mother's agitation. "He's
upstairs in the attic at the top of the house, sir," she
whispered in frightened tones, with a glance that fled from her
mother's terrified face to Rudolf's set eyes and steady smile.
What she said was enough for him. He slipped by the old woman and
began to mount the stairs.
The two watched him, Mother Holf as though fascinated, the girl
alarmed but still triumphant: she had done what the king bade
her. Rudolf turned the corner of the first landing and
disappeared from their sight. The old woman, swearing and
muttering, stumbled back into her kitchen, set her stew on the
fire, and began to stir it, her eyes set on the flames and
careless of the pot. The girl watched her mother for a moment,
wondering how she could think of the stew, not guessing that she
turned the spoon without a thought of what she did; then she
began to crawl, quickly but noiselessly, up the staircase in the
track of Rudolf Rassendyll. She looked back once: the old woman
stirred with a monotonous circular movement of her fat arm. Rosa,
bent half-double, skimmed upstairs, till she came in sight of the
king whom she was so proud to serve. He was on the top landing
now, outside the door of a large attic where Rupert of Hentzau
was lodged. She saw him lay his hand on the latch of the door;
his other hand rested in the pocket of his coat. From the room
no sound came; Rupert may have heard the step outside and stood
motionless to listen. Rudolf opened the door and walked in. The
girl darted breathlessly up the remaining steps, and, coming to
the door, just as it swung back on the latch, crouched down by
it, listening to what passed within, catching glimpses of forms
and movements through the chinks of the crazy hinge and the
crevices where the wood of the panel sprung and left a narrow eye
hole for her absorbed gazing.
Rupert of Hentzau had no thought of ghosts; the men he killed lay
still where they fell, and slept where they were buried. And he
had no wonder at the sight of Rudolf Rassendyll. It told him no
more than that Rischenheim's errand had fallen out ill, at which
he was not surprised, and that his old enemy was again in his
path, at which (as I verily believe) he was more glad than sorry.
As Rudolf entered, he had been half-way between window and table;
he came forward to the table now, and stood leaning the points of
two fingers on the unpolished dirty-white deal.
"Ah, the play-actor!" said he, with a gleam of his teeth and a
toss of his curls, while his second hand, like Mr. Rassendyll's,
rested in the pocket of his coat.
Mr. Rassendyll himself has confessed that in old days it went
against the grain with him when Rupert called him a play-actor.
He was a little older now, and his temper more difficult to stir.
"Yes, the play-actor," he answered, smiling. "With a shorter part
this time, though."
"What part to-day? Isn't it the old one, the king with a
pasteboard crown?" asked Rupert, sitting down on the table.
"Faith, we shall do handsomely in Ruritania: you have a
pasteboard crown, and I (humble man though I am) have given the
other one a heavenly crown. What a brave show! But perhaps I tell
"No, I know what you've done."
"I take no credit. It was more the dog's doing than mine," said
Rupert carelessly. "However, there it is, and dead he is, and
there's an end of it. What's your business, play-actor?"
At the repetition of this last word, to her so mysterious, the
girl outside pressed her eyes more eagerly to the chink and
strained her ears to listen more sedulously. And what did the
count mean by the "other one" and "a heavenly crown"?
"Why not call me king?" asked Rudolf.
"They call you that in Strelsau?"
"Those that know I'm here."
"And they are--?"
"Some few score."
"And thus," said Rupert, waving an arm towards the window, "the
town is quiet and the flags fly?"
"You've been waiting to see them lowered?"
"A man likes to have some notice taken of what he has done,"
Rupert complained. "However, I can get them lowered when I will."
"By telling your news? Would that be good for yourself?"
"Forgive me--not that way. Since the king has two lives, it is
but in nature that he should have two deaths."
"And when he has undergone the second?"
"I shall live at peace, my friend, on a certain source of income
that I possess." He tapped his breast-pocket with a slight,
defiant laugh. "In these days," said he, "even queens must be
careful about their letters. We live in moral times."
"You don't share the responsibility for it," said Rudolf,
"I make my little protest. But what's your business, play-actor?
For I think you're rather tiresome."
Rudolf grew grave. He advanced towards the table, and spoke in
low, serious tones.
"My lord, you're alone in this matter now. Rischenheim is a
prisoner; your rogue Bauer I encountered last night and broke his
"Ah, you did?"
"You have what you know of in your hands. If you yield, on my
honor I will save your life."
"You don't desire my blood, then, most forgiving play-actor?"
"So much, that I daren't fail to offer you life," answered Rudolf
Rassendyll. "Come, sir, your plan has failed: give up the
Rupert looked at him thoughtfully.
"You'll see me safe off if I give it you?" he asked.
"I'll prevent your death. Yes, and I'll see you safe."
"To a fortress, where a trustworthy gentleman will guard you."
"For how long, my dear friend?"
"I hope for many years, my dear Count."
"In fact, I suppose, as long as--?"
"Heaven leaves you to the world, Count. It's impossible to set
"That's the offer, then?"
"The extreme limit of indulgence," answered Rudolf. Rupert burst
into a laugh, half of defiance, yet touched with the ring of true
amusement. Then he lit a cigarette and sat puffing and smiling.
"I should wrong you by straining your kindness so far," said he;
and in wanton insolence, seeking again to show Mr. Rassendyll the
mean esteem in which he held him, and the weariness his presence
was, he raised his arms and stretched them above his head, as a
man does in the fatigue of tedium. "Heigho!" he yawned.
But he had overshot the mark this time. With a sudden swift bound
Rudolf was upon him; his hands gripped Rupert's wrists, and with
his greater strength he bent back the count's pliant body till
trunk and head lay flat on the table. Neither man spoke; their
eyes met; each heard the other's breathing and felt the vapor of
it on his face. The girl outside had seen the movement of
Rudolf's figure, but her cranny did not serve her to show her the
two where they were now; she knelt on her knees in ignorant
suspense. Slowly and with a patient force Rudolf began to work
his enemy's arms towards one another. Rupert had read his design
in his eyes and resisted with tense muscles. It seemed as though
his arms must crack; but at last they moved. Inch by inch they
were driven closer; now the elbows almost touched; now the wrists
joined in reluctant contact. The sweat broke out on the count's
brow, and stood in large drops on Rudolf's. Now the wrists were
side by side, and slowly the long sinewy fingers of Rudolf's
right hand, that held one wrist already in their vise, began to
creep round the other. The grip seemed to have half numbed
Rupert's arms, and his struggles grew fainter. Round both wrists
the sinewy fingers climbed and coiled; gradually and timidly the
grasp of the other hand was relaxed and withdrawn. Would the one
hold both? With a great spasm of effort Rupert put it to the
The smile that bent Mr. Rassendyll's lips gave the answer. He
could hold both, with one hand he could hold both: not for long,
no, but for an instant. And then, in the instant, his left hand,
free at last, shot to the breast of the count's coat. It was the
same that he had worn at the hunting-lodge, and was ragged and
torn from the boar-hound's teeth. Rudolf tore it further open,
and his hand dashed in.
"God's curse on you!" snarled Rupert of Hentzau.
But Mr. Rassendyll still smiled. Then he drew out a letter. A
glance at it showed him the queen's seal. As he glanced Rupert
made another effort. The one hand, wearied out, gave way, and Mr.
Rassendyll had no more than time to spring away, holding his
prize. The next moment he had his revolver in his hand--none too
soon, for Rupert of Hentzau's barrel faced him, and they stood
thus, opposite to one another, with no more than three or four
feet between the mouths of their weapons.
There is, indeed, much that may be said against Rupert of
Hentzau, the truth about him well-nigh forbidding that charity of
judgment which we are taught to observe towards all men. But
neither I nor any man who knew him ever found in him a shrinking
from danger or a fear of death. It was no feeling such as these,
but rather a cool calculation of chances, that now stayed his
hand. Even if he were victorious in the duel, and both did not
die, yet the noise of the firearms would greatly decrease his
chances of escape. Moreover, he was a noted swordsman, and
conceived that he was Mr. Rassendyll's superior in that exercise.
The steel offered him at once a better prospect for victory and
more hope of a safe fight. So he did not pull his trigger, but,
maintaining his aim the while, said:
"I'm not a street bully, and I don't excel in a rough-and-tumble.
Will you fight now like a gentleman? There's a pair of blades in
the case yonder."
Mr. Rassendyll, in his turn, was keenly alive to the peril that
still hung over the queen. To kill Rupert would not save her if
he himself also were shot and left dead, or so helpless that he
could not destroy the letter; and while Rupert's revolver was at
his heart he could not tear it up nor reach the fire that burnt
on the other side of the room. Nor did he fear the result of a
trial with steel, for he had kept himself in practice and
improved his skill since the days when he came first to Strelsau.
"As you will," said he. "Provided we settle the matter here and
now, the manner is the same to me."
"Put your revolver on the table, then, and I'll lay mine by the
side of it."
"I beg your pardon," smiled Rudolf, "but you must lay yours down
"I'm to trust you, it seems, but you won't trust me!"
"Precisely. You know you can trust me; you know that I can't
A sudden flush swept over Rupert of Hentzau's face. There were
moments when he saw, in the mirror of another's face or words,
the estimation in which honorable men held him; and I believe
that he hated Mr. Rassendyll most fiercely, not for thwarting his
enterprise, but because he had more power than any other man to
show him that picture. His brows knit in a frown, and his lips
"Ay, but though you won't fire, you'll destroy the letter," he
sneered. "I know your fine distinctions."
"Again I beg your pardon. You know very well that, although all
Strelsau were at the door, I wouldn't touch the letter."
With an angry muttered oath Rupert flung his revolver on the
table. Rudolf came forward and laid his by it. Then he took up
both, and, crossing to the mantelpiece, laid them there; between
there he placed the queen's letter. A bright blaze burnt in the
grate; it needed but the slightest motion of his hand to set the
letter beyond all danger. But he placed it carefully on the
mantelpiece, and, with a slight smile on his face, turned to
Rupert, saying: "Now shall we resume the bout that Fritz von
Tarlenheim interrupted in the forest of Zenda?"
All this while they had been speaking in subdued accents,
resolution in one, anger in the other, keeping the voice in an
even, deliberate lowness. The girl outside caught only a word
here and there; but now suddenly the flash of steel gleamed on
her eyes through the crevice of the hinge. She gave a sudden
gasp, and, pressing her face closer to the opening, listened and
looked. For Rupert of Hentzau had taken the swords from their
case and put them on the table. With a slight bow Rudolf took
one, and the two assumed their positions. Suddenly Rupert lowered
his point. The frown vanished from his face, and he spoke in his
usual bantering tone.
"By the way," said he, "perhaps we're letting our feelings run
away with us. Have you more of a mind now to be King of
Ruritania? If so, I'm ready to be the most faithful of your
"You honor me, Count."
"Provided, of course, that I'm one of the most favored and the
richest. Come, come, the fool is dead now; he lived like a fool
and he died like a fool. The place is empty. A dead man has no
rights and suffers no wrongs. Damn it, that's good law, isn't it?
Take his place and his wife. You can pay my price then. Or are
you still so virtuous? Faith, how little some men learn from the
world they live in! If I had your chance!"
"Come, Count, you'd be the last man to trust Rupert of Hentzau."
"If I made it worth his while?"
"But he's a man who would take the pay and betray his associate."
Again Rupert flushed. When he next spoke his voice was hard,
cold, and low.
"By God, Rudolf Rassendyll," said he, "I'll kill you here and
"I ask no better than that you should try."
"And then I'll proclaim that woman for what she is in all
Strelsau." A smile came on his lips as he watched Rudolf's face.
"Guard yourself, my lord," said Mr. Rassendyll.
"Ay, for no better than--There, man, I'm ready for you." For
Rudolf's blade had touched his in warning.
The steel jangled. The girl's pale face was at the crevice of the
hinge. She heard the blades cross again and again. Then one would
run up the other with a sharp, grating slither. At times she
caught a glimpse of a figure in quick forward lunge or rapid wary
withdrawal. Her brain was almost paralyzed.
Ignorant of the mind and heart of young Rupert, she could not
conceive that he tried to kill the king. Yet the words she had
caught sounded like the words of men quarreling, and she could
not persuade herself that the gentlemen fenced only for pastime.
They were not speaking now; but she heard their hard breathing
and the movement of their unresting feet on the bare boards of
the floor. Then a cry rang out, clear and merry with the fierce
hope of triumph: "Nearly! nearly!"
She knew the voice for Rupert of Hentzau's, and it was the king
who answered calmly, "Nearly isn't quite."
Again she listened. They seemed to have paused for a moment, for
there was no sound, save of the hard breathing and deep-drawn
pants of men who rest an instant in the midst of intense
exertion. Then came again the clash and the slitherings; and one
of them crossed into her view. She knew the tall figure and she
saw the red hair: it was the king. Backward step by step he
seemed to be driven, coming nearer and nearer to the door. At
last there was no more than a foot between him and her; only the
crazy panel prevented her putting out her hand to touch him.
Again the voice of Rupert rang out in rich exultation, "I have
you now! Say your prayers, King Rudolf!"
"Say your prayers!" Then they fought. It was earnest, not play.
And it was the king--her king--her dear king, who was in great
peril of his life. For an instant she knelt, still watching. Then
with a low cry of terror she turned and ran headlong down the
steep stairs. Her mind could not tell what to do, but her heart
cried out that she must do something for her king. Reaching the
ground floor, she ran with wide-open eyes into the kitchen. The
stew was on the hob, the old woman still held the spoon, but she
had ceased to stir and fallen into a chair.
"He's killing the king! He's killing the king!" cried Rosa,
seizing her mother by the arm. "Mother, what shall we do? He's
killing the king!"
The old woman looked up with dull eyes and a stupid, cunning
"Let them alone," she said. "There's no king here."
"Yes, yes. He's upstairs in the count's room. They're fighting,
he and the Count of Hentzau. Mother, Count Rupert will kill
"Let them alone. He the king? He's no king," muttered the old
For an instant Rosa stood looking down on her in helplessdespair.
Then a light flashed into her eyes.
"I must call for help," she cried.
The old woman seemed to spring to sudden life. She jumped up and
caught her daughter by the shoulder.
"No, no," she whispered in quick accents. "You--you don't know.
Let them alone, you fool! It's not our business. Let them alone."
"Let me go, mother, let me go! Mother, I must help the king!"
"I'll not let you go," said Mother Holf.
But Rosa was young and strong; her heart was fired with terror
for the king's danger.
"I must go," she cried; and she flung her mother's grasp off from
her so that the old woman was thrown back into her chair, and the
spoon fell from her hand and clattered on the tiles. But Rosa
turned and fled down the passage and through the shop. The bolts
delayed her trembling fingers for an instant. Then she flung the
door wide. A new amazement filled her eyes at the sight of the
eager crowd before the house. Then her eyes fell on me where I
stood between the lieutenant and Rischenheim, and she uttered her
wild cry, "Help! The king!"
With one bound I was by her side and in the house, while
Bernenstein cried, "Quicker!" from behind.
CHAPTER XVIII. THE TRIUMPH OF THE KING
THE things that men call presages, presentiments, and so forth,
are, to my mind, for the most part idle nothings: sometimes it is
only that probable events cast before them a natural shadow which
superstitious fancy twists into a Heaven sent warning; oftener
the same desire that gives conception works fulfilment, and the
dreamer sees in the result of his own act and will a mysterious
accomplishment independent of his effort. Yet when I observe thus
calmly and with good sense on the matter to the Constable of
Zenda, he shakes his head and answers, "But Rudolf Rassendyll
knew from the first that he would come again to Strelsau and
engage young Rupert point to point. Else why did he practise with
the foils so as to be a better swordsman the second time than he
was the first? Mayn't God do anything that Fritz von Tarlenheim
can't understand? a pretty notion, on my life!" And he goes off
Well, be it inspiration, or be it delusion--and the difference
stands often on a hair's breadth--I am glad that Rudolf had it.
For if a man once grows rusty, it is everything short of
impossible to put the fine polish on his skill again. Mr.
Rassendyll had strength, will, coolness, and, of course, courage.
None would have availed had not his eye been in perfect
familiarity with its work, and his hand obeyed it as readily as
the bolt slips in a well-oiled groove. As the thing stood, the
lithe agility and unmatched dash of young Rupert but just missed
being too much for him. He was in deadly peril when the girl Rosa
ran down to bring him aid. His practised skill was able to
maintain his defence. He sought to do no more, but endured
Rupert's fiery attack and wily feints in an almost motionless
stillness. Almost, I say; for the slight turns of wrist that seem
nothing are everything, and served here to keep his skin whole
and his life in him.
There was an instant--Rudolf saw it in his eyes and dwelt on it
when he lightly painted the scene for me--when there dawned on
Rupert of Hentzau the knowledge that he could not break down his
enemy's guard. Surprise, chagrin, amusement, or something like
it, seemed blended in his look. He could not make out how he was
caught and checked in every effort, meeting, it seemed, a barrier
of iron impregnable in rest. His quick brain grasped the lesson
in an instant. If his skill were not the greater, the victory
would not be his, for his endurance was the less. He was younger,
and his frame was not so closely knit; pleasure had taken its
tithe from him; perhaps a good cause goes for something. Even
while he almost pressed Rudolf against the panel of the door, he
seemed to know that his measure of success was full. But what the
hand could not compass the head might contrive. In quickly
conceived strategy he began to give pause in his attack, nay, he
retreated a step or two. No scruples hampered his devices, no
code of honor limited the means he would employ. Backing before
his opponent, he seemed to Rudolf to be faint-hearted; he was
baffled, but seemed despairing; he was weary, but played a more
complete fatigue. Rudolf advanced, pressing and attacking, only
to meet a defence as perfect as his own. They were in the middle
of the room now, close by the table. Rupert, as though he had
eyes in the back of his head, skirted round, avoiding it by a
narrow inch. His breathing was quick and distressed, gasp
tumbling over gasp, but still his eye was alert and his hand
unerring. He had but a few moments' more effort left in him: it
was enough if he could reach his goal and perpetrate the trick on
which his mind, fertile in every base device, was set. For it was
towards the mantelpiece that his retreat, seeming forced, in
truth so deliberate, led him. There was the letter, there lay the
revolvers. The time to think of risks was gone by; the time to
boggle over what honor allowed or forbade had never come to
Rupert of Hentzau. If he could not win by force and skill, he
would win by guile and by treachery, to the test that he had
himself invited. The revolvers lay on the mantelpiece: he meant
to possess himself of one, if he could gain an instant in which
to snatch it.
The device that he adopted was nicely chosen. It was too late to
call a rest or ask breathing space: Mr. Rassendyll was not blind
to the advantage he had won, and chivalry would have turned to
folly had it allowed such indulgence. Rupert was hard by the
mantelpiece now. The sweat was pouring from his face, and his
breast seemed like to burst in the effort after breath; yet he
had enough strength for his purpose. He must have slackened his
hold on his weapon, for when Rudolf's blade next struck it, it
flew from his hand, twirled out of a nerveless grasp, and slid
along the floor. Rupert stood disarmed, and Rudolf motionless.
"Pick it up," said Mr. Rassendyll, never thinking there had been
"Ay, and you'll truss me while I do it."
"You young fool, don't you know me yet?" and Rudolf, lowering his
blade, rested its point on the floor, while with his left hand he
indicated Rupert's weapon. Yet something warned him: it may be
there came a look in Rupert's eyes, perhaps of scorn for his
enemy's simplicity, perhaps of pure triumph in the graceless
knavery. Rudolf stood waiting.
"You swear you won't touch me while I pick it up?" asked Rupert,
shrinking back a little, and thereby getting an inch or two
nearer the mantelpiece.
"You have my promise: pick it up. I won't wait any longer."
"You won't kill me unarmed?" cried Rupert, in alarmed scandalized
The speech went unfinished, unless a sudden cry were its ending.
And, as he cried, Rudolf Rassendyll, dropping his sword on the
ground, sprang forward. For Rupert's hand had shot out behind him
and was on the butt of one of the revolvers. The whole trick
flashed on Rudolf, and he sprang, flinging his long arms round
Rupert. But Rupert had the revolver in his hand.
In all likelihood the two neither heard nor heeded, though it
seemed to me that the creaks and groans of the old stairs were
loud enough to wake the dead. For now Rosa had given the alarm,
Bernenstein and I--or I and Bernenstein (for I was first, and,
therefore, may put myself first)--had rushed up. Hard behind us
came Rischenheim, and hot on his heels a score of fellows,
pushing and shouldering and trampling. We in front had a fair
start, and gained the stairs unimpeded; Rischenheim was caught up
in the ruck and gulfed in the stormy, tossing group that
struggled for first footing on the steps. Yet, soon they were
after us, and we heard them reach the first landing as we sped up
to the last. There was a confused din through all the house, and
it seemed now to echo muffled and vague through the walls from
the street without. I was conscious of it, although I paid no
heed to anything but reaching the room where the king--where
Rudolf--was. Now I was there, Bernenstein hanging to my heels.
The door did not hold us a second. I was in, he after me. He
slammed the door and set his back against it, just as the rush of
feet flooded the highest flight of stairs. And at the moment a
revolver shot rang clear and loud.
The lieutenant and I stood still, he against the door, I a pace
farther into the room. The sight we saw was enough to arrest us
with its strange interest. The smoke of the shot was curling
about, but neither man seemed wounded. The revolver was in
Rupert's hand, and its muzzle smoked. But Rupert was jammed
against the wall, just by the side of the mantelpiece. With one
hand Rudolf had pinned his left arm to the wainscoting higher
than his head, with the other he held his right wrist. I drew
slowly nearer: if Rudolf were unarmed, I could fairly enforce a
truce and put them on an equality; yet, though Rudolf was
unarmed, I did nothing. The sight of his face stopped me. He was
very pale and his lips were set, but it was his eyes that caught
my gaze, for they were glad and merciless. I had never seen him
look thus before. I turned from him to young Hentzau's face.
Rupert's teeth were biting his under lip, the sweat dropped, and
the veins swelled large and blue on his forehead; his eyes were
set on Rudolf Rassendyll. Fascinated, I drew nearer. Then I saw
what passed. Inch by inch Rupert's arm curved, the elbow bent,
the hand that had pointed almost straight from him and at Mr.
Rassendyll pointed now away from both towards the window. But its
motion did not stop; it followed the line of a circle: now it was
on Rupert's arm; still it moved, and quicker now, for the power
of resistance grew less. Rupert was beaten; he felt it and knew
it, and I read the knowledge in his eyes. I stepped up to Rudolf
Rassendyll. He heard or felt me, and turned his eyes for an
instant. I do not know what my face said, but he shook his head
and turned back to Rupert. The revolver, held still in the man's
own hand, was at his heart. The motion ceased, the point was
I looked again at Rupert. Now his face was easier; there was a
slight smile on his lips; he flung back his comely head and
rested thus against the wainscoting; his eyes asked a question of
Rudolf Rassendyll. I turned my gaze to where the answer was to
come, for Rudolf made none in words. By the swiftest of movements
he shifted his grasp from Rupert's wrist and pounced on his hand.
Now his forefinger rested on Rupert's and Rupert's was on the
trigger. I am no soft-heart, but I laid a hand on his shoulder.
He took no heed; I dared do no more. Rupert glanced at me. I
caught his look, but what could I say to him? Again my eyes were
riveted on Rudolf's finger. Now it was crooked round Rupert's,
seeming like a man who strangles another.
I will not say more. He smiled to the last; his proud head, which
had never bent for shame, did not bend for fear. There was a
sudden tightening in the pressure of that crooked forefinger, a
flash, a noise. He was held up against the wall for an instant by
Rudolf's hand; when that was removed he sank, a heap that looked
all head and knees.
But hot on the sound of the discharge came a shout and an oath
from Bernenstein. He was hurled away from the door, and through
it burst Rischenheim and the whole score after him. They were
jostling one another and crying out to know what passed and where
the king was. High over all the voices, coming from the back of
the throng, I heard the cry of the girl Rosa. But as soon as they
were in the room, the same spell that had fastened Bernenstein
and me to inactivity imposed its numbing power on them also. Only
Rischenheim gave a sudden sob and ran forward to where his cousin
lay. The rest stood staring. For a moment Rudolf eyed them. Then,
without a word, he turned his back. He put out the right hand
with which he had just killed Rupert of Hentzau, and took the
letter from the mantelpiece. He glanced at the envelope, then he
opened the letter. The handwriting banished any last doubt he
had; he tore the letter across, and again in four pieces, and yet
again in smaller fragments. Then he sprinkled the morsels of
paper into the blaze of the fire. I believe that every eye in the
room followed them and watched till they curled and crinkled into
black, wafery ashes. Thus, at last the queen's letter was safe.
When he had thus set the seal on his task he turned round to us
again. He paid no heed to Rischenheim, who was crouching down by
the body of Rupert; but he looked at Bernenstein and me, and then
at the people behind us. He waited a moment before he spoke; then
his utterance was not only calm but also very slow, so that he
seemed to be choosing his words carefully.
"Gentlemen," said he, "a full account of this matter will be
rendered by myself in due time. For the present it must suffice
to say that this gentleman who lies here dead sought an interview
with me on private business. I came here to find him, desiring,
as he professed, to desire, privacy. And here he tried to kill
me. The result of his attempt you see."
I bowed low, Bernenstein did the like, and all the rest followed
"A full account shall be given," said Rudolf. "Now let all leave
me, except the Count of Tarlenheim and Lieutenant von
Most unwillingly, with gaping mouths and wonder-struck eyes, the
throng filed out of the door. Rischenheim rose to his feet.
"You stay, if you like," said Rudolf, and the count knelt again
by his kinsman.
Seeing the rough bedsteads by the wall of the attic, I touched
Rischenheim on the shoulder and pointed to one of them. Together
we lifted Rupert of Hentzau. The revolver was still in his hand,
but Bernenstein disengaged it from his grasp. Then Rischenheim
and I laid him down, disposing his body decently and spreading
over it his riding cloak, still spotted with the mud gathered on
his midnight expedition to the hunting-lodge. His face looked
much as before the shot was fired; in death, as in life, he was
the handsomest fellow in all Ruritania. I wager that many tender
hearts ached and many bright eyes were dimmed for him when the
news of his guilt and death went forth. There are ladies still in
Strelsau who wear his trinkets in an ashamed devotion that cannot
forget. Well, even I, who had every good cause to hate and scorn
him, set the hair smooth on his brow; while Rischenheim was
sobbing like a child, and young Bernenstein rested his head on
his arm as he leant on the mantelpiece, and would not look at the
dead. Rudolf alone seemed not to heed him or think of him. His
eyes had lost their unnatural look of joy, and were now calm and
tranquil. He took his own revolver from the mantelpiece and put
it in his pocket, laying Rupert's neatly where his had been. Then
he turned to me and said:
"Come, let us go to the queen and tell her that the letter is
beyond reach of hurt."
Moved by some impulse, I walked to the window and put my head
out. I was seen from below, and a great shout greeted me. The
crowd before the doors grew every moment; the people flocking
from all quarters would soon multiply it a hundred fold; for such
news as had been carried from the attic by twenty wondering
tongues spreads like a forest-fire. It would be through Strelsau
in a few minutes, through the kingdom in an hour, through Europe
in but little longer. Rupert was dead and the letter was safe,
but what were we to tell that great concourse concerning their
king? A queer feeling of helpless perplexity came over me and
found vent in a foolish laugh. Bernenstein was by my side; he
also looked out, and turned again with an eager face.
"You'll have a royal progress to your palace," said he to Rudolf
Mr. Rassendyll made no answer, but, coming to me, took my arm. We
went out, leaving Rischenheim by the body. I did not think of
him; Bernenstein probably thought that he would keep his pledge
given to the queen, for he followed us immediately and without
demur. There was nobody outside the door. The house was very
quiet, and the tumult from the street reached us only in a
muffled roar. But when we came to the foot of the stairs we found
the two women. Mother Holf stood on the threshold of the kitchen,
looking amazed and terrified. Rosa was clinging to her; but as
soon as Rudolf came in sight, the girl sprang forward and flung
herself on her knees before him, pouring out incoherent thanks to
Heaven for his safety. He bent down and spoke to her in a
whisper; she looked up with a flush of pride on her face. He
seemed to hesitate a moment; he glanced at his hands, but he wore
no ring save that which the queen had given him long ago. Then he
disengaged his chain and took his gold watch from his pocket.
Turning it over, he showed me the monogram, R. R.
"Rudolfus Rex," he whispered with a whimsical smile, and pressed
the watch into the girl's hand, saying: "Keep this to remind you
She laughed and sobbed as she caught it with one hand, while with
the other she held his.
"You must let go," he said gently. "I have much to do."
I took her by the arm and induced her to rise. Rudolf, released,
passed on to where the old woman stood. He spoke to her in a
stern, distinct voice.
"I don't know," he said, "how far you are a party to the plot
that was hatched in your house. For the present I am content not
to know, for it is no pleasure to me to detect disloyalty or to
punish an old woman. But take care! The first word you speak, the
first act you do against me, the king, will bring its certain and
swift punishment. If you trouble me, I won't spare you. In spite
of traitors I am still king in Strelsau."
He paused, looking hard in her face. Her lip quivered and her
"Yes," he repeated, "I am king in Strelsau. Keep your hands out
of mischief and your tongue quiet."
She made no answer. He passed on. I was following, but as I went
by her the old woman clutched my arm. "In God's name, who is he?"
"Are you mad?" I asked, lifting my brows. "Don't you know the
king when he speaks to you? And you'd best remember what he said.
He has servants who'll do his orders."
She let me go and fell back a step. Young Bernenstein smiled at
her; he at least found more pleasure than anxiety in our
position. Thus, then, we left them: the old woman terrified,
amazed, doubtful; the girl with ruddy cheeks and shining eyes,
clasping in her two hands the keepsake that the king himself had
Bernenstein had more presence of mind than I. He ran forward, got
in front of both of us, and flung the door open. Then, bowing
very low, he stood aside to let Rudolf pass. The street was full
from end to end now, and a mighty shout of welcome rose from
thousands of throats. Hats and handkerchiefs were waved in mad
exultation and triumphant loyalty. The tidings of the king's
escape had flashed through the city, and all were there to do him
honor. They had seized some gentleman's landau and taken out the
horses. The carriage stood now before the doors of the house.
Rudolf had waited a moment on the threshold, lifting his hat once
or twice; his face was perfectly calm, and I saw no trembling in
his hands. In an instant a dozen arms took gentle hold of him and
impelled him forward. He mounted into the carriage; Bernenstein
and I followed, with bare heads, and sat on the back seat, facing
him. The people were round as thick as bees, and it seemed as
though we could not move without crushing somebody. Yet presently
the wheels turned, and they began to drag us away at a slow walk.
Rudolf kept raising his hat, bowing now to right, now to left.
But once, as he turned, his eyes met ours. In spite of what was
behind and what was in front, we all three smiled.
"I wish they'd go a little quicker," said Rudolf in a whisper, as
he conquered his smile and turned again to acknowledge the loyal
greetings of his subjects.
But what did they know of any need for haste? They did not know
what stood on the turn of the next few hours, nor the momentous
question that pressed for instant decision. So far from hurrying,
they lengthened our ride by many pauses; they kept us before the
cathedral, while some ran and got the joy bells set ringing; we
were stopped to receive improvised bouquets from the hands of
pretty girls and impetuous hand-shakings from enthusiastic
loyalists. Through it all Rudolf kept his composure, and seemed
to play his part with native kingliness. I heard Bernenstein
whisper, "By God, we must stick to it!"
At last we came in sight of the palace. Here also there was a
great stir. Many officers and soldiers were about. I saw the
chancellor's carriage standing near the portico, and a dozen
other handsome equipages were waiting till they could approach.
Our human horses drew us slowly up to the entrance. Helsing was
on the steps, and ran down to the carriage, greeting the king
with passionate fervor. The shouts of the crowd grew louder
But suddenly a stillness fell on them; it lasted but an instant,
and was the prelude to a deafening roar. I was looking at Rudolf
and saw his head turn suddenly and his eyes grow bright. I looked
where his eyes had gone. There, on the top step of the broad
marble flight, stood the queen, pale as the marble itself,
stretching out her hands towards Rudolf. The people had seen her:
she it was whom this last rapturous cheer greeted. My wife stood
close behind her, and farther back others of her ladies.
Bernenstein and I sprang out. With a last salute to the people
Rudolf followed us. He walked up to the highest step but one, and
there fell on one knee and kissed the queen's hand. I was by him,
and when he looked up in her face I heard him say:
"All's well. He's dead, and the letter burnt."
She raised him with her hand. Her lips moved, but it seemed as
though she could find no words to speak. She put her arm through
his, and thus they stood for an instant, fronting all Strelsau.
Again the cheers rang out, and young Bernenstein sprang forward,
waving his helmet and crying like a man possessed, "God save the
king!" I was carried away by his enthusiasm and followed his
lead. All the people took up the cry with boundless fervor, and
thus we all, high and low in Strelsau, that afternoon hailed Mr.
Rassendyll for our king. There had been no such zeal since Henry
the Lion came back from his wars, a hundred and fifty years ago.
"And yet," observed old Helsing at my elbow, "agitators say that
there is no enthusiasm for the house of Elphberg!" He took a
pinch of snuff in scornful satisfaction.
Young Bernenstein interrupted his cheering with a short laugh,
but fell to his task again in a moment. I had recovered my senses
by now, and stood panting, looking down on the crowd. It was
growing dusk and the faces became blurred into a white sea. Yet
suddenly I seemed to discern one glaring up at me from the middle
of the crowd--the pale face of a man with a bandage about his
head. I caught Bernenstein's arm and whispered, "Bauer," pointing
with my finger where the face was. But, even as I pointed, it was
gone; though it seemed impossible for a man to move in that
press, yet it was gone. It had come like a cynic's warning across
the scene of mock triumph, and went swiftly as it had come,
leaving behind it a reminder of our peril. I felt suddenly sick
at heart, and almost cried out to the people to have done with
their silly shouting.
At last we got away. The plea of fatigue met all visitors who
made their way to the door and sought to offer their
congratulations; it could not disperse the crowd that hung
persistently and contentedly about, ringing us in the palace with
a living fence. We still heard their jests and cheers when we
were alone in the small saloon that opens on the gardens. My wife
and I had come here at Rudolf's request; Bernenstein had assumed
the duty of guarding the door. Evening was now falling fast, and
it grew dark. The garden was quiet; the distant noise of the
crowd threw its stillness into greater relief. Rudolf told us
there the story of his struggle with Rupert of Hentzau in the
attic of the old house, dwelling on it as lightly as he could.
The queen stood by his chair--she would not let him rise; when he
finished by telling how he had burnt her letter, she stooped
suddenly and kissed him off the brow. Then she looked straight
across at Helga, almost defiantly; but Helga ran to her and
caught her in her arms.
Rudolf Rassendyll sat with his head resting on his hand. He
looked up once at the two women; then he caught my eye, and
beckoned me to come to him. I approached him, but for several
moments he did not speak. Again he motioned to me, and, resting
my hand on the arm of his chair, I bent my head close down to
his. He glanced again at the queen, seeming afraid that she would
hear what he wished to say.
"Fritz," he whispered at last, "as soon as it's fairly dark I
must get away. Bernenstein will come with me. You must stay
"Where can you go?"
"To the lodge. I must meet Sapt and arrange matters with him."
I did not understand what plan he had in his head, or what scheme
he could contrive. But at the moment my mind was not directed to
such matters; it was set on the sight before my eyes.
"And the queen?" I whispered in answer to him.
Low as my voice was, she heard it. She turned to us with a
sudden, startled movement, still holding Helga's hand. Her eyes
searched our faces, and she knew in an instant of what we had
been speaking. A little longer still she stood, gazing at us.
Then she suddenly sprang forward and threw herself on her knees
before Rudolf, her hands uplifted and resting on his shoulders.
She forgot our presence, and everything in the world, save her
great dread of losing him again.
"Not again, Rudolf, my darling! Not again! Rudolf, I can't bear
Then she dropped her head on his knees and sobbed.
He raised his hand and gently stroked the gleaming hair. But he
did not look at her. He gazed out at the garden, which grew dark
and dreary in the gathering gloom. His lips were tight set and
his face pale and drawn.
I watched him for a moment, then I drew my wife away, and we sat
down at a table some way off. From outside still came the cheers
and tumult of the joyful, excited crowd. Within there was no
sound but the queen's stifled sobbing. Rudolf caressed her
shining hair and gazed into the night with sad, set eyes. She
raised her head and looked into his face.
"You'll break my heart," she said.
CHAPTER XIX. FOR OUR LOVE AND HER HONOR
RUPERT of Hentzau was dead! That was the thought which, among all
our perplexities, came back to me, carrying with it a wonderful
relief. To those who have not learnt in fighting against him the
height of his audacity and the reach of his designs, it may well
seem incredible that his death should breed comfort at a moment
when the future was still so dark and uncertain. Yet to me it was
so great a thing that I could hardly bring myself to the
conviction that we had done with him. True, he was dead; but
could he not strike a blow at us even from beyond the gulf?
Such were the half-superstitious thoughts that forced their way
into my mind as I stood looking out on the crowd which
obstinately encircled the front of the palace. I was alone;
Rudolf was with the queen, my wife was resting, Bernenstein had
sat down to a meal for which I could find no appetite. By an
effort I freed myself from my fancies and tried to concentrate my
brain on the facts of our position. We were ringed round with
difficulties. To solve them was beyond my power; but I knew where
my wish and longing lay. I had no desire to find means by which
Rudolf Rassendyll should escape unknown from Strelsau; the king,
although dead, be again in death the king, and the queen be left
desolate on her mournful and solitary throne. It might be that a
brain more astute than mine could bring all this to pass. My
imagination would have none of it, but dwelt lovingly on the
reign of him who was now king in Strelsau, declaring that to give
the kingdom such a ruler would be a splendid fraud, and prove a
stroke so bold as to defy detection. Against it stood only the
suspicions of Mother Holf--fear or money would close her
lips--and the knowledge of Bauer; Bauer's mouth also could be
shut, ay, and should be before we were many days older. My
reverie led me far; I saw the future years unroll before me in
the fair record of a great king's sovereignty. It seemed to me
that by the violence and bloodshed we had passed through, fate,
for once penitent, was but righting the mistake made when Rudolf
was not born a king.
For a long while I stood thus, musing and dreaming; I was roused
by the sound of the door opening and closing; turning, I saw the
queen. She was alone, and came towards me with timid steps. She
looked out for a moment on the square and the people, but drew
back suddenly in apparent fear lest they should see her. Then she
sat down and turned her face towards mine. I read in her eyes
something of the conflict of emotions which possessed her; she
seemed at once to deprecate my disapproval and to ask my
sympathy; she prayed me to be gentle to her fault and kind to her
happiness; self-reproach shadowed her joy, but the golden gleam
of it strayed through. I looked eagerly at her; this would not
have been her bearing had she come from a last farewell; for the
radiance was there, however much dimmed by sorrow and by
"Fritz," she began softly, "I am wicked--so wicked. Won't God
punish me for my gladness?"
I fear I paid little heed to her trouble, though I can understand
it well enough now.
"Gladness?" I cried in a low voice. "Then you've persuaded him?"
She smiled at me for an instant.
"I mean, you've agreed?" I stammered.
Her eyes again sought mine, and she said in a whisper: "Some day,
not now. Oh, not now. Now would be too much. But some day, Fritz,
if God will not deal too hardly with me, I--I shall be his,
I was intent on my vision, not on hers. I wanted him king; she
did not care what he was, so that he was hers, so that he should
not leave her.
"He'll take the throne," I cried triumphantly.
"No, no, no. Not the throne. He's going away."
"Going away!" I could not keep the dismay out of my voice.
"Yes, now. But not--not for ever. It will be long--oh, so
long--but I can bear it, if I know that at last!" She stopped,
still looking up at me with eyes that implored pardon and
"I don't understand," said I, bluntly, and, I fear, gruffly,
"You were right," she said: "I did persuade him. He wanted to go
away again as he went before. Ought I to have let him? Yes, yes!
But I couldn't. Fritz, hadn't I done enough? You don't know what
I've endured. And I must endure more still. For he will go now,
and the time will be very long. But, at last, we shall be
together. There is pity in God; we shall be together at last."
"If he goes now, how can he come back?"
"He will not come back; I shall go to him. I shall give up the
throne and go to him, some day, when I can be spared from here,
when I've done my--my work."
I was aghast at this shattering of my vision, yet I could not be
hard to her. I said nothing, but took her hand and pressed it.
"You wanted him to be king?" she whispered.
"With all my heart, madam," said I.
"He wouldn't, Fritz. No, and I shouldn't dare to do that,
I fell back on the practical difficulties. "But how can he go?" I
"I don't know. But he knows; he has a plan."
We fell again into silence; her eyes grew more calm, and seemed
to look forward in patient hope to the time when her happiness
should come to her. I felt like a man suddenly robbed of the
exaltation of wine and sunk to dull apathy. "I don't see how he
can go," I said sullenly.
She did not answer me. A moment later the door again opened.
Rudolf came in, followed by Bernenstein. Both wore riding boots
and cloaks. I saw on Bernenstein's face just such a look of
disappointment as I knew must be on mine. Rudolf seemed calm and
even happy. He walked straight up to the queen.
"The horses will be ready in a few minutes," he said gently.
Then, turning to me, he asked, "You know what we're going to do,
"Not I, sire," I answered, sulkily.
"Not I, sire!" he repeated, in a half-merry, half-sad mockery.
Then he came between Bernenstein and me and passed his arms
through ours. "You two villains!" he said. "You two unscrupulous
villains! Here you are, as rough as bears, because I won't be a
thief! Why have I killed young Rupert and left you rogues alive?"
I felt the friendly pressure of his hand on my arm. I could not
answer him. With every word from his lips and every moment of his
presence my sorrow grew keener that he would not stay.
Bernenstein looked across at me and shrugged his shoulders
despairingly. Rudolf gave a little laugh.
"You won't forgive me for not being as great a rogue, won't you?"
Well, I found nothing to say, but I took my arm out of his and
clasped his hand. He gripped mine hard.
"That's old Fritz!" he said; and he caught hold of Bernenstein's
hand, which the lieutenant yielded with some reluctance. "Now for
the plan," said he. "Bernenstein and I set out at once for the
lodge--yes, publicly, as publicly as we can. I shall ride right
through the people there, showing myself to as many as will look
at me, and letting it be known to everybody where I'm going. We
shall get there quite early to-morrow, before it's light. There
we shall find what you know. We shall find Sapt, too, and he'll
put the finishing touches to our plan for us. Hullo, what's
There was a sudden fresh shouting from the large crowd that still
lingered outside the palace. I ran to the window, and saw a
commotion in the midst of them. I flung the sash up. Then I heard
a well-known, loud, strident voice: "Make way, you rascals, make
I turned round again, full of excitement.
"It's Sapt himself!" I said. "He's riding like mad through the
crowd, and your servant's just behind him."
"My God, what's happened? Why have they left the lodge?" cried
The queen looked up in startled alarm, and, rising to her feet,
came and passed her arm through Rudolf's. Thus we all stood,
listening to the people good-naturedly cheering Sapt, whom they
had recognized, and bantering James, whom they took for a servant
of the constable's.
The minutes seemed very long as we waited in utter perplexity,
almost in consternation. The same thought was in the mind of all
of us, silently imparted by one to another in the glances we
exchanged. What could have brought them from their guard of the
great secret, save its discovery? They would never have left
their post while the fulfilment of their trust was possible. By
some mishap, some unforeseen chance, the king's body must have
been discovered. Then the king's death was known, and the news of
it might any moment astonish and bewilder the city.
At last the door was flung open, and a servant announced the
Constable of Zenda. Sapt was covered with dust and mud, and
James, who entered close on his heels, was in no better plight.
Evidently they had ridden hard and furiously; indeed they were
still panting. Sapt, with a most perfunctory bow to the queen,
came straight to where Rudolf stood.
"Is he dead?" he asked, without preface.
"Yes, Rupert is dead," answered Mr. Rassendyll: "I killed him."
"And the letter?"
"I burnt it."
The queen struck in.
"The Count of Luzau-Rischenheim will say and do nothing against
me," she said.
Sapt lifted his brows a little. "Well, and Bauer?" he asked.
"Bauer's at large," I answered.
"Hum! Well, it's only Bauer" said the constable, seeming
tolerably well pleased. Then his eyes fell on Rudolf and
Bernenstein. He stretched out his hand and pointed to their
riding-boots. "Whither away so late at night?" he asked.
"First together to the lodge, to find you, then I alone to the
frontier," said Mr. Rassendyll.
"One thing at a time. The frontier will wait. What does your
Majesty want with me at the lodge?"
"I want so to contrive that I shall be no longer your Majesty,"
Sapt flung himself into a chair and took off his gloves.
"Come, tell me what has happened to-day in Strelsau," he said.
We gave a short and hurried account. He listened with few signs
of approval or disapproval, but I thought I saw a gleam in his
eyes when I described how all the city had hailed Rudolf as its
king and the queen received him as her husband before the eyes of
all. Again the hope and vision, shattered by Rudolf's calm
resolution, inspired me. Sapt said little, but he had the air of
a man with some news in reserve. He seemed to be comparing what
we told him with something already known to him but unknown to
us. The little servant stood all the while in respectful
stillness by the door; but I could see by a glance at his alert
face that he followed the whole scene with keen attention.
At the end of the story, Rudolf turned to Sapt. "And your
secret--is it safe?" he asked.
"Ay, it's safe enough!"
"Nobody has seen what you had to hide?"
"No; and nobody knows that the king is dead," answered Sapt.
"Then what brings you here?"
"Why, the same thing that was about to bring you to the lodge:
the need of a meeting between yourself and me, sire."
"But the lodge--is it left unguarded?"
"The lodge is safe enough," said Colonel Sapt.
Unquestionably there was a secret, a new secret, hidden behind
the curt words and brusque manner. I could restrain myself no
longer, and sprang forward, saying: "What is it? Tell us,
He looked at me, then glanced at Mr. Rassendyll.
"I should like to hear your plan first," he said to Rudolf. "How
do you mean to account for your presence alive in the city
to-day, when the king has lain dead in the shooting-box since
We drew close together as Rudolf began his answer. Sapt alone lay
back in his chair. The queen also had resumed her seat; she
seemed to pay little heed to what we said. I think that she was
still engrossed with the struggle and tumult in her own soul. The
sin of which she accused herself, and the joy to which her whole
being sprang in a greeting which would not be abashed, were at
strife between themselves, but joined hands to exclude from her
mind any other thought.
"In an hour I must be gone from here," began Rudolf.
"If you wish that, it's easy," observed Colonel Sapt.
"Come, Sapt, be reasonable," smiled Mr. Rassendyll. "Early
to-morrow, we--you and I--"
"Oh, I also?" asked the colonel.
"Yes; you, Bernenstein, and I will be at the lodge."
"That's not impossible, though I have had nearly enough riding."
Rudolf fixed his eyes firmly on Sapt's.
"You see," he said, "the king reaches his hunting-lodge early in
"I follow you, sire."
"And what happens there, Sapt? Does he shoot himself
"Well, that happens sometimes."
"Or does an assassin kill him?"
"Eh, but you've made the best assassin unavailable."
Even at this moment I could not help smiling at the old fellow's
surly wit and Rudolf's amused tolerance of it.
"Or does his faithful attendant, Herbert, shoot him?"
"What, make poor Herbert a murderer!"
"Oh, no! By accident--and then, in remorse, kill himself."
"That's very pretty. But doctors have awkward views as to when a
man can have shot himself."
"My good Constable, doctors have palms as well as ideas. If you
fill the one you supply the other."
"I think," said Sapt, "that both the plans are good. Suppose we
choose the latter, what then?"
"Why, then, by to-morrow at midday the news flashes through
Ruritania--yes, and through Europe--that the king, miraculously
"Praise be to God!" interjected Colonel Sapt; and young
"Has met a tragic end."
"It will occasion great grief," said Sapt.
"Meanwhile, I am safe over the frontier."
"Oh, you are quite safe?"
"Absolutely. And in the afternoon of to-morrow, you and
Bernenstein will set out for Strelsau, bringing with you the body
of the king." And Rudolf, after a pause, whispered, "You must
shave his face. And if the doctors want to talk about how long
he's been dead, why, they have, as I say, palms."
Sapt sat silent for a while, apparently considering the scheme.
It was risky enough in all conscience, but success had made
Rudolf bold, and he had learnt how slow suspicion is if a
deception be bold enough. It is only likely frauds that are
"Well, what do you say?" asked Mr. Rassendyll. I observed that he
said nothing to Sapt of what the queen and he had determined to
Sapt wrinkled his forehead. I saw him glance at James, and the
slightest, briefest smile showed on James's face.
"It's dangerous, of course," pursued Rudolf. "But I believe that
when they see the king's body--"
"That's the point," interrupted Sapt. "They can't see the king's
Rudolf looked at him with some surprise. Then speaking in a low
voice, lest the queen should hear and be distressed, he went on:
"You must prepare it, you know. Bring it here in a shell; only a
few officials need see the face."
Sapt rose to his feet and stood facing Mr. Rassendyll.
"The plan's a pretty one, but it breaks down at one point," said
he in a strange voice, even harsher than his was wont to be. I
was on fire with excitement, for I would have staked my life now
that he had some strange tidings for us. "There is no body," said
Even Mr. Rassendyll's composure gave way. He sprang forward,
catching Sapt by the arm.
"No body? What do you mean?" he exclaimed.
Sapt cast another glance at James, and then began in an even,
mechanical voice, as though he were reading a lesson he had
learnt, or playing a part that habit made familiar:
"That poor fellow Herbert carelessly left a candle burning where
the oil and the wood were kept," he said. "This afternoon, about
six, James and I lay down for a nap after our meal. At about
seven James came to my side and roused me. My room was full of
smoke. The lodge was ablaze. I darted out of bed: the fire had
made too much headway; we could not hope to quench it; we had but
one thought!" He suddenly paused, and looked at James.
"But one thought, to save our companion," said James gravely.
"But one thought, to save our companion. We rushed to the door of
the room where he was. I opened the door and tried to enter. It
was certain death. James tried, but fell back. Again I rushed in.
James pulled me back: it was but another death. We had to save
ourselves. We gained the open air. The lodge was a sheet of
flame. We could do nothing but stand watching, till the swiftly
burning wood blackened to ashes and the flames died down. As we
watched we knew that all in the cottage must be dead. What could
we do? At last James started off in the hope of getting help. He
found a party of charcoal-burners, and they came with him. The
flames were burnt down now; and we and they approached the
charred ruins. Everything was in ashes. But"--he lowered his
voice--"we found what seemed to be the body of Boris the hound;
in another room was a charred corpse, whose hunting-horn, melted
to a molten mass, told us that it had been Herbert the forester.
And there was another corpse, almost shapeless, utterly
unrecognizable. We saw it; the charcoal-burners saw it. Then more
peasants came round, drawn by the sight of the flames. None could
tell who it was; only I and James knew. And we mounted our horses
and have ridden here to tell the king."
Sapt finished his lesson or his story. A sob burst from the
queen, and she hid her face in her hands. Bernenstein and I,
amazed at this strange tale, scarcely understanding whether it
were jest or earnest, stood staring stupidly at Sapt. Then I,
overcome by the strange thing, turned half-foolish by the bizarre
mingling of comedy and impressiveness in Sapt's rendering of it,
plucked him by the sleeve, and asked, with something between a
laugh and a gasp:
"Who had that other corpse been, Constable?"
He turned his small, keen eyes on me in persistent gravity and
"A Mr. Rassendyll, a friend of the king's, who with his servant
James was awaiting his Majesty's return from Strelsau. His
servant here is ready to start for England, to tell Mr.
Rassendyll's relatives the news."
The queen had begun to listen before now; her eyes were fixed on
Sapt, and she had stretched out one arm to him, as if imploring
him to read her his riddle. But a few words had in truth declared
his device plainly enough in all its simplicity. Rudolf
Rassendyll was dead, his body burnt to a cinder, and the king was
alive, whole, and on his throne in Strelsau. Thus had Sapt caught
from James, the servant, the infection of his madness, and had
fulfilled in action the strange imagination which the little man
had unfolded to him in order to pass their idle hours at the
Suddenly Mr. Rassendyll spoke in clear, short tones.
"This is all a lie, Sapt," said he, and his lips curled in
"It's no lie that the lodge is burnt, and the bodies in it, and
that half a hundred of the peasants know it, and that no man
could tell the body for the king's. As for the rest, it is a lie.
But I think the truth in it is enough to serve."
The two men stood facing one another with defiant eyes. Rudolf
had caught the meaning of the great and audacious trick which
Sapt and his companion had played. It was impossible now to bring
the king's body to Strelsau; it seemed no less impossible to
declare that the man burnt in the lodge was the king. Thus Sapt
had forced Rudolf's hand; he had been inspired by the same vision
as we, and endowed with more unshrinking boldness. But when I saw
how Rudolf looked at him, I did not know but that they would go
from the queen's presence set on a deadly quarrel. Mr.
Rassendyll, however, mastered his temper.
"You're all bent on having me a rascal," he said coldly. "Fritz
and Bernenstein here urge me; you, Sapt, try to force me. James,
there, is in the plot, for all I know."
"I suggested it, sir," said James, not defiantly or with
disrespect, but as if in simple dutiful obedience to his master's
"As I thought--all of you! Well, I won't be forced. I see now
that there's no way out of this affair, save one. That one I'll
We none of us spoke, but waited till he should be pleased to
"Of the queen's letter I need say nothing and will say nothing,"
he pursued. "But I will tell them that I'm not the king, but
Rudolf Rassendyll, and that I played the king only in order to
serve the queen and punish Rupert of Hentzau. That will serve,
and it will cut this net of Sapt's from about my limbs."
He spoke firmly and coldly; so that when I looked at him I was
amazed to see how his lips twitched and that his forehead was
moist with sweat. Then I understood what a sudden, swift, and
fearful struggle he had suffered, and how the great temptation
had wrung and tortured him before he, victorious, had set the
thing behind him. I went to him and clasped his hand: this action
of mine seemed to soften him.
"Sapt, Sapt," he said, "you almost made a rogue of me."
Sapt did not respond to his gentler mood. He had been pacing
angrily up and down the room. Now he stopped abruptly before
Rudolf, and pointed with his finger at the queen.
"I make a rogue of you?" he exclaimed. "And what do you make of
our queen, whom we all serve? What does this truth that you'll
tell make of her? Haven't I heard how she greeted you before all
Strelsau as her husband and her love? Will they believe that she
didn't know her husband? Ay, you may show yourself, you may say
they didn't know you. Will they believe she didn't? Was the
king's ring on your finger? Where is it? And how comes Mr.
Rassendyll to be at Fritz von Tarlenheim's for hours with the
queen, when the king is at his hunting lodge? A king has died
already, and two men besides, to save a word against her. And
you--you'll be the man to set every tongue in Strelsau talking,
and every finger pointing in suspicion at her?
Rudolf made no answer. When Sapt had first uttered the queen's
name, he had drawn near and let his hand fall over the back of
her chair. She put hers up to meet it, and so they remained. But
I saw that Rudolf's face had gone very pale.
"And we, your friends?" pursued Sapt. "For we've stood by you as
we've stood by the queen, by God we have--Fritz, and young
Bernenstein here, and I. If this truth's told, who'll believe
that we were loyal to the king, that we didn't know, that we
weren't accomplices in the tricking of the king--maybe, in his
murder? Ah, Rudolf Rassendyll, God preserve me from a conscience
that won't let me be true to the woman I love, or to the friends
who love me!"
I had never seen the old fellow so moved; he carried me with him,
as he carried Bernenstein. I know now that we were too ready to
be convinced; rather that, borne along by our passionate desire,
we needed no convincing at all. His excited appeal seemed to us
an argument. At least the danger to the queen, on which he dwelt,
was real and true and great.
Then a sudden change came over him. He caught Rudolf's hand and
spoke to him again in a low, broken voice, an unwonted softness
transforming his harsh tones.
"Lad," he said, "don't say no. Here's the finest lady alive sick
for her lover, and the finest country in the world sick for its
true king, and the best friends--ay, by Heaven, the best
friends--man ever had, sick to call you master. I know nothing
about your conscience; but this I know: the king's dead, and the
place is empty; and I don't see what Almighty God sent you here
for unless it was to fill it. Come, lad--for our love and her
honor! While he was alive I'd have killed you sooner than let you
take it. He's dead. Now--for our love and her honor, lad!"
I do not know what thoughts passed in Mr. Rassendyll's mind. His
face was set and rigid. He made no sign when Sapt finished, but
stood as he was, motionless, for a long while. Then he slowly
bent his head and looked down into the queen's eyes. For a while
she sat looking back into his. Then, carried away by the wild
hope of immediate joy, and by her love for him and her pride in
the place he was offered, she sprang up and threw herself at his
"Yes, yes! For my sake, Rudolf--for my sake!"
"Are you, too, against me, my queen?" he murmured caressing her
CHAPTER XX. THE DECISION OF HEAVEN
WE were half mad that night, Sapt and Bernenstein and I. The
thing seemed to have got into our blood and to have become
part of ourselves. For us it was inevitable--nay, it was done.
Sapt busied himself in preparing the account of the fire at the
hunting-lodge; it was to be communicated to the journals, and it
told with much circumstantiality how Rudolf Rassendyll had come
to visit the king, with James his servant, and, the king being
summoned unexpectedly to the capital, had been awaiting his
Majesty's return when he met his fate. There was a short history
of Rudolf, a glancing reference to his family, a dignified
expression of condolence with his relatives, to whom the king was
sending messages of deepest regret by the hands of Mr.
Rassendyll's servant. At another table young Bernenstein was
drawing up, under the constable's direction, a narrative of
Rupert of Hentzau's attempt on the king's life and the king's
courage in defending himself. The count, eager to return (so it
ran), had persuaded the king to meet him by declaring that he
held a state-document of great importance and of a most secret
nature; the king, with his habitual fearlessness, had gone alone,
but only to refuse with scorn Count Rupert's terms. Enraged at
this unfavorable reception, the audacious criminal had made a
sudden attack on the king, with what issue all knew. He had met
his own death, while the king, perceiving from a glance at the
document that it compromised well-known persons, had, with the
nobility which marked him, destroyed it unread before the eyes of
those who were rushing in to his rescue. I supplied suggestions
and improvements; and, engrossed in contriving how to blind
curious eyes, we forgot the real and permanent difficulties of
the thing we had resolved upon. For us they did not exist; Sapt
met every objection by declaring that the thing had been done
once and could be done again. Bernenstein and I were not behind
him in confidence.
We would guard the secret with brain and hand and life, even as
we had guarded and kept the secret of the queen's letter, which
would now go with Rupert of Hentzau to his grave. Bauer we could
catch and silence: nay, who would listen to such a tale from such
a man? Rischenheim was ours; the old woman would keep her doubts
between her teeth for her own sake. To his own land and his own
people Rudolf must be dead while the King of Ruritania would
stand before all Europe recognized, unquestioned, unassailed.
True, he must marry the queen again; Sapt was ready with the
means, and would hear nothing of the difficulty and risk in
finding a hand to perform the necessary ceremony. If we quailed
in our courage: we had but to look at the alternative, and find
recompense the perils of what we meant to undertake by a
consideration the desperate risk involved in abandoning it.
Persuaded the substitution of Rudolf for the king was the only
thing would serve our turn, we asked no longer whether it
possible, but sought only the means to make it safe and safe.
But Rudolf himself had not spoken. Sapt's appeal and the queen's
imploring cry had shaken but not overcome him; he had wavered,
but he was not won. Yet there was no talk of impossibility or
peril in his mouth, any more than in ours: those were not what
gave him pause. The score on which he hesitated was whether the
thing should be done, not whether it could; our appeals were not
to brace a failing courage, but cajole a sturdy sense of honor
which found the imposture distasteful so soon as it seemed to
serve a personal end. To serve the king he had played the king in
old days, but he did not love to play the king when the profit of
it was to be his own. Hence he was unmoved till his care for the
fair fame of the queen and the love of his friends joined to
buffet his resolution.
Then he faltered; but he had not fallen. Yet Colonel Sapt did all
as though he had given his assent, and watched the last hours in
which his flight from Strelsau was possible go quickly by with
more than equanimity. Why hurry Rudolf's resolve? Every moment
shut him closer in the trap of an inevitable choice. With every
hour that he was called the king, it became more impossible for
him to bear any other name all his days. Therefore Sapt let Mr.
Rassendyll doubt and struggle, while he himself wrote his story
and laid his long-headed plans. And now and then James, the
little servant, came in and went out, sedate and smug, but with a
quiet satisfaction gleaming in his eyes. He had made a story for
a pastime, and it was being translated into history. He at least
would bear his part in it unflinchingly.
Before now the queen had left us, persuaded to lie down and try
to rest till the matter should be settled. Stilled by Rudolf's
gentle rebuke, she had urged him no more in words, but there was
an entreaty in her eyes stronger than any spoken prayer, and a
piteousness in the lingering of her hand in his harder to resist
than ten thousand sad petitions. At last he had led her from the
room and commended her to Helga's care. Then, returning to us, he
stood silent a little while. We also were silent, Sapt sitting
and looking up at him with his brows knit and his teeth
restlessly chewing the moustache on his lip.
"Well, lad?" he said at last, briefly putting the great question.
Rudolf walked to the window and seemed to lose himself for a
moment in the contemplation of the quiet night. There were no
more than a few stragglers in the street now; the moon shone
white and clear on the empty square.
"I should like to walk up and down outside and think it over," he
said, turning to us; and, as Bernenstein sprang up to accompany
him, he added, "No. Alone."
"Yes, do," said old Sapt, with a glance at the clock, whose hands
were now hard on two o'clock. "Take your time, lad, take your
Rudolf looked at him and broke into a smile.
"I'm not your dupe, old Sapt," said he, shaking his head. "Trust
me, if I decide to get away, I'll get away, be it what o'clock it
"Yes, confound you!" grinned Colonel Sapt.
So he left us, and then came that long time of scheming and
planning, and most persistent eye-shutting, in which occupations
an hour wore its life away. Rudolf had not passed out of the
porch, and we supposed that he had betaken himself to the
gardens, there to fight his battle. Old Sapt, having done his
work, suddenly turned talkative.
"That moon there," he said, pointing his square, thick forefinger
at the window, "is a mighty untrustworthy lady. I've known her
wake a villain's conscience before now."
"I've known her send a lover's to sleep," laughed young
Bernenstein, rising from his table, stretching himself, and
lighting a cigar.
"Ay, she's apt to take a man out of what he is," pursued old
Sapt. "Set a quiet man near her, and he dreams of battle; an
ambitious fellow, after ten minutes of her, will ask nothing
better than to muse all his life away. I don't trust her, Fritz;
I wish the night were dark."
"What will she do to Rudolf Rassendyll?" I asked, falling in with
the old fellow's whimsical mood.
"He will see the queen's face in hers," cried Bernenstein.
"He may see God's," said Sapt; and he shook himself as though an
unwelcome thought had found its way to his mind and lips.
A pause fell on us, born of the colonel's last remark. We looked
one another in the face. At last Sapt brought his hand down on
the table with a bang.
"I'll not go back," he said sullenly, almost fiercely.
"Nor I," said Bernenstein, drawing himself up. "Nor you,
"No, I also go on," I answered. Then again there was a moment's
"She may make a man soft as a sponge," reflected Sapt, starting
again, "or hard as a bar of steel. I should feel safer if the
night were dark. I've looked at her often from my tent and from
bare ground, and I know her. She got me a decoration, and once
she came near to making me turn tail. Have nothing to do with
her, young Bernenstein."
"I'll keep my eyes for beauties nearer at hand," said
Bernenstein, whose volatile temper soon threw off a serious mood.
"There's a chance for you, now Rupert of Hentzau's gone," said
As he spoke there was a knock at the door. When it opened James
"The Count of Luzau-Rischenheim begs to be allowed to speak with
the king," said James.
"We expect his Majesty every moment. Beg the count to enter,"
Sapt answered; and, when Rischenheim came in, he went on,
motioning the count to a chair: "We are talking, my lord, of the
influence of the moon on the careers of men."
"What are you going to do? What have you decided?" burst out
"We decide nothing," answered Sapt.
"Then what has Mr.--what has the king decided?"
"The king decides nothing, my lord. She decides," and the old
fellow pointed again through the window towards the moon. "At
this moment she makes or unmakes a king; but I can't tell you
which. What of your cousin?"
"You know that my cousin's dead."
"Yes, I know that. What of him, though?"
"Sir," said Rischenheim with some dignity, "since he is dead, let
him rest in peace. It is not for us to judge him."
"He may well wish it were. For, by Heaven, I believe I should let
the rogue off," said Colonel Sapt, "and I don't think his Judge
"God forgive him, I loved him," said Rischenheim. "Yes, and many
have loved him. His servants loved him, sir."
"Friend Bauer, for example?"
"Yes, Bauer loved him. Where is Bauer?"
"I hope he's gone to hell with his loved master," grunted Sapt,
but he had the grace to lower his voice and shield his mouth with
his hand, so that Rischenheim did not hear.
"We don't know where he is," I answered.
"I am come," said Rischenheim, "to put my services in all
respects at the queen's disposal."
"And at the king's?" asked Sapt.
"At the king's? But the king is dead."
"Therefore 'Long live the king!'" struck in young Bernenstein.
"If there should be a king--" began Sapt.
"You'll do that?" interrupted Rischenheim in breathless
"She is deciding," said Colonel Sapt, and again he pointed to the
"But she's a plaguey long time about it," remarked Lieutenant von
Rischenheim sat silent for a moment. His face was pale, and when
he spoke his voice trembled. But his words were resolute enough.
"I gave my honor to the queen, and even in that I will serve her
if she commands me."
Bernenstein sprang forward and caught him by the hand. "That's
what I like," said he, "and damn the moon, colonel!" His sentence
was hardly out of his mouth when the door opened, and to our
astonishment the queen entered. Helga was just behind her; her
clasped hands and frightened eyes seemed to protest that their
coming was against her will. The queen was clad in a long white
robe, and her hair hung on her shoulders, being but loosely bound
with a ribbon. Her air showed great agitation, and without any
greeting or notice of the rest she walked quickly across the room
"The dream, Fritz," she said. "It has come again. Helga persuaded
me to lie down, and I was very tired, so at last I fell asleep.
Then it came. I saw him, Fritz--I saw him as plainly as I see
you. They all called him king, as they did to-day; but they did
not cheer. They were quiet, and looked at him with sad faces. I
could not hear what they said; they spoke in hushed voices. I
heard nothing more than 'the king, the king,' and he seemed to
hear not even that. He lay still; he was lying on something,
something covered with hanging stuff, I couldn't see what it was;
yes, quite still. His face was so pale, and he didn't hear them
say 'the king.' Fritz, Fritz, he looked as if he were dead! Where
is he? Where have you let him go?"
She turned from me and her eyes flashed over the rest. "Where is
he? Why aren't you with him?" she demanded, with a sudden change
of tone; "why aren't you round him? You should be between him and
danger, ready to give your lives for his. Indeed, gentlemen, you
take your duty lightly."
It might be that there was little reason in her words. There
appeared to be no danger threatening him, and after all he was
not our king, much as we desired to make him such. Yet we did not
think of any such matter. We were abashed before her reproof and
took her indignation as deserved. We hung our heads, and Sapt's
shame betrayed itself in the dogged sullenness of his answer.
"He has chosen to go walking, madam, and to go alone. He ordered
us--I say, he ordered us not to come. Surely we are right to obey
him?" The sarcastic inflection of his voice conveyed his opinion
of the queen's extravagance.
"Obey him? Yes. You couldn't go with him if he forbade you. But
you should follow him; you should keep him in sight."
This much she spoke in proud tones and with a disdainful manner,
but then came a sudden return to her former bearing. She held out
her hands towards me, wailing:
"Fritz, where is he? Is he safe? Find him for me, Fritz; find
"I'll find him for you if he's above ground, madam," I cried, for
her appeal touched me to the heart.
"He's no farther off than the gardens," grumbled old Sapt, still
resentful of the queen's reproof and scornful of the woman's
agitation. He was also out of temper with Rudolf himself, because
the moon took so long in deciding whether she would make or
unmake a king.
"The gardens!" she cried. "Then let us look for him. Oh, you've
let him walk in the gardens alone?"
"What should harm the fellow?" muttered Sapt.
She did not hear him, for she had swept out of the room. Helga
went with her, and we all followed, Sapt behind the rest of us,
still very surly. I heard him grumbling away as we ran
downstairs, and, having passed along the great corridor, came to
the small saloon that opened on the gardens. There were no
servants about, but we encountered a night-watchman, and
Bernenstein snatched the lantern from the astonished man's hand.
Save for the dim light thus furnished, the room was dark. But
outside the windows the moon streamed brightly down on the broad
gravel walk, on the formal flower-beds, and the great trees in
the gardens. The queen made straight for the window. I followed
her, and, having flung the window open, stood by her. The air was
sweet, and the breeze struck with grateful coolness on my face. I
saw that Sapt had come near and stood on the other side of the
queen. My wife and the others were behind, looking out where our
shoulders left space.
There, in the bright moonlight, on the far side of the broad
terrace, close by the line of tall trees that fringed its edge,
we saw Rudolf Rassendyll pacing slowly up and down, with his
hands behind his back and his eyes fixed on the arbiter of his
fate, on her who was to make him a king or send him a fugitive
"There he is, madam," said Sapt. "Safe enough!"
The queen did not answer. Sapt said no more, and of the rest of
us none spoke. We stood watching him as he struggled with his
great issue; a greater surely has seldom fallen to the lot of any
man born in a private station. Yet I could read little of it on
the face that the rays of white light displayed so clearly,
although they turned his healthy tints to a dull gray, and gave
unnatural sharpness to his features against the deep background
of black foliage.
I heard the queen's quick breathing, but there was scarcely
another sound. I saw her clutch her gown and pull it away a
little from her throat; save for that none in the group moved.
The lantern's light was too dim to force notice from Mr.
Rassendyll. Unconscious of our presence, he wrestled with fate
that night in the gardens.
Suddenly the faintest exclamation came from Sapt. He put his hand
back and beckoned to Bernenstein. The young man handed his
lantern to the constable, who set it close to the side of the
window-frame. The queen, absolutely engrossed in her lover, saw
nothing, but I perceived what had caught Sapt's attention. There
were scores on the paint and indentations in the wood, just at
the edge of the panel and near the lock. I glanced at Sapt, who
nodded his head. It looked very much as though somebody had tried
to force the door that night, employing a knife which had dented
the woodwork and scratched the paint. The least thing was enough
to alarm us, standing where we stood, and the constable's face
was full of suspicion. Who had sought an entrance? It could be no
trained and practised housebreaker; he would have had better
But now our attention was again diverted. Rudolf stopped short.
He still looked for a moment at the sky, then his glance dropped
to the ground at his feet. A second later he jerked his head--it
was bare, and I saw the dark red hair stir with the
movement--like a man who has settled something which caused him a
puzzle. In an instant we knew, by the quick intuition of
contagious emotion, that the question had found its answer. He
was by now king or a fugitive. The Lady of the Skies had given
her decision. The thrill ran through us; I felt the queen draw
herself together at my side; I felt the muscles of Rischenheim's
arm which rested against my shoulder grow rigid and taut. Sapt's
face was full of eagerness, and he gnawed his moustache silently.
We gathered closer to one another. At last we could bear the
suspense no longer. With one look at the queen and another at me,
Sapt stepped on to the gravel. He would go and learn the answer;
thus the unendurable strain that had stretched us like tortured
men on a rack would be relieved. The queen did not answer his
glance, nor even seem to see that he had moved. Her eyes were
still all for Mr. Rassendyll, her thoughts buried in his; for her
happiness was in his hands and lay poised on the issue of that
decision whose momentousness held him for a moment motionless on
the path. Often I seem to see him as he stood there, tall,
straight, and stately, the king a man's fancy paints when he
reads of great monarchs who flourished long ago in the springtime
of the world.
Sapt's step crunched on the gravel. Rudolf heard it and turned
his head. He saw Sapt, and he saw me also behind Sapt. He smiled
composedly and brightly, but he did not move from where he was.
He held out both hands towards the constable and caught him in
their double grasp, still smiling down in his face. I was no
nearer to reading his decision, though I saw that he had reached
a resolution that was immovable and gave peace to his soul. If he
meant to go on he would go on now, on to the end, without a
backward look or a falter of his foot; if he had chosen the other
way, he would depart without a murmur or a hesitation. The
queen's quick breathing had ceased, she seemed like a statue; but
Rischenheim moved impatiently, as though he could no longer
endure the waiting.
Sapt's voice came harsh and grating.
"Well?" he cried. "Which is it to be--backward or forward?"
Rudolf pressed his hands and looked into his eyes. The answer
asked but a word from him. The queen caught my arm; her rigid
limbs seemed to give way, and she would have fallen if I had not
supported her. At the same instant a man sprang out of the dark
line of tall trees, directly behind Mr. Rassendyll. Bernenstein
uttered a loud startled cry and rushed forward, pushing the queen
herself violently out of his path. His hand flew to his side, and
he ripped the heavy cavalry sword that belonged to his uniform of
the Cuirassiers of the Guard from its sheath. I saw it flash in
the moonlight, but its flash was quenched in a brighter short
blaze. A shot rang out through the quiet gardens. Mr. Rassendyll
did not loose his hold of Sapt's hands, but he sank slowly on to
his knees. Sapt seemed paralyzed.
Again Bernenstein cried out. It was a name this time. "Bauer! By
God, Bauer!" he cried.
In an instant he was across the path and by the trees. The
assassin fired again, but now he missed. We saw the great sword
flash high above Bernenstein's head and heard it whistle through
the air. It crashed on the crown of Bauer's head, and he fell
like a log to the ground with his skull split. The queen's hold
on me relaxed; she sank into Rischenheim's arms. I ran forward
and knelt by Mr. Rassendyll. He still held Sapt's hands, and by
their help buoyed himself up. But when he saw me he let go of
them and sank back against me, his head resting on my chest. He
moved his lips, but seemed unable to speak. He was shot through
the back. Bauer had avenged the master whom he loved, and was
gone to meet him.
There was a sudden stir from inside the palace. Shutters were
flung back and windows thrown open. The group we made stood
clean-cut, plainly visible in the moonlight. A moment later there
was a rush of eager feet, and we were surrounded by officers and