Part 6 out of 6
servants. Bernenstein stood by me now, leaning on his sword; Sapt
had not uttered a word; his face was distorted with horror and
bitterness. Rudolf's eyes were closed and his head lay back
"A man has shot the king," said I, in bald, stupid explanation.
All at once I found James, Mr. Rassendyll's servant, by me.
"I have sent for doctors, my lord," he said. "Come, let us carry
He, Sapt and I lifted Rudolf and bore him across the gravel
terrace and into the little saloon. We passed the queen. She was
leaning on Rischenheim's arm, and held my wife's hand. We laid
Rudolf down on a couch. Outside I heard Bernenstein say, "Pick up
that fellow and carry him somewhere out of sight." Then he also
came in, followed by a crowd. He sent them all to the door, and
we were left alone, waiting for the surgeon. The queen came up,
Rischenheim still supporting her. "Rudolf! Rudolf!" she
whispered, very softly.
He opened his eyes, and his lips bent in a smile. She flung
herself on her knees and kissed his hand passionately. "The
surgeon will be here directly," said I.
Rudolf's eyes had been on the queen. As I spoke he looked up at
me, smiled again, and shook his head. I turned away.
When the surgeon came Sapt and I assisted him in his examination.
The queen had been led away, and we were alone. The examination
was very short. Then we carried Rudolf to a bed; the nearest
chanced to be in Bernenstein's room; there we laid him, and there
all that could be done for him was done. All this time we had
asked no questions of the surgeon, and he had given no
information. We knew too well to ask: we had all seen men die
before now, and the look on the face was familiar to us. Two or
three more doctors, the most eminent in Strelsau, came now,
having been hastily summoned. It was their right to be called;
but, for all the good they were, they might have been left to
sleep the night out in their beds. They drew together in a little
group at the end of the room and talked for a few minutes in low
tones. James lifted his master's head and gave him a drink of
water. Rudolf swallowed it with difficulty. Then I saw him feebly
press James's hand, for the little man's face was full of sorrow.
As his master smiled the servant mustered a smile in answer. I
crossed over to the doctors. "Well, gentlemen?" I asked.
They looked at one another, then the greatest of them said
"The king may live an hour, Count Fritz. Should you not send for
I went straight back to Rudolf Rassendyll. His eyes greeted me
and questioned me. He was a man, and I played no silly tricks
with him. I bent down and said: "An hour, they think, Rudolf."
He made one restless movement, whether of pain or protest I do
not know. Then he spoke, very low, slowly, and with difficulty.
"Then they can go," he said; and when I spoke of a priest he
shook his head.
I went back to them and asked if anything more could be done. The
answer was nothing; but I could not prevail further than to get
all save one sent into an adjoining room; he who remained seated
himself at a table some way off. Rudolf's eyes had closed again;
old Sapt, who had not once spoken since the shot was fired,
raised a haggard face to mine.
"We'd better fetch her to him," he said hoarsely. I nodded my
Sapt went while I stayed by him. Bernenstein came to him, bent
down, and kissed his hand. The young fellow, who had borne
himself with such reckless courage and dash throughout the
affair, was quite unmanned now, and the tears were rolling down
his face. I could have been much in the same plight, but I would
not before Mr. Rassendyll. He smiled at Bernenstein. Then he said
"Is she coming, Fritz?"
"Yes, she's coming, sire," I answered.
He noticed the style of my address; a faint amused gleam shot
into his languid eyes.
"Well, for an hour, then," he murmured, and lay back on his
She came, dry-eyed, calm, and queenly. We all drew back, and she
knelt down by his bed, holding his hand in her two hands.
Presently the hand stirred; she let it go; then, knowing well
what he wanted, she raised it herself and placed it on her head,
while she bowed her face to the bed. His hand wandered for the
last time over the gleaming hair that he had loved so well. She
rose, passed her arm about his shoulders, and kissed his lips.
Her face rested close to his, and he seemed to speak to her, but
we could not have heard the words even if we would. So they
remained for a long while.
The doctor came and felt his pulse, retreating afterwards with
close-shut lips. We drew a little nearer, for we knew that he
would not be long with us now. Suddenly strength seemed to come
upon him. He raised himself in his bed, and spoke in distinct
"God has decided," he said. "I've tried to do the right thing
through it all. Sapt, and Bernenstein, and you, old Fritz, shake
my hand. No, don't kiss it. We've done with pretence now."
We shook his hand as he bade us. Then he took the queen's hand.
Again she knew his mind, and moved it to his lips. "In life and
in death, my sweet queen," he murmured. And thus he fell asleep.
CHAPTER XXI. THE COMING OF THE DREAM
THERE IS little need, and I have little heart, to dwell on what
followed the death of Mr. Rassendyll. The plans we had laid to
secure his tenure of the throne, in case he had accepted it,
served well in the event of his death. Bauer's lips were for ever
sealed; the old woman was too scared and appalled to hint even to
her gossips of the suspicions she entertained. Rischenheim was
loyal to the pledge he had given to the queen. The ashes of the
hunting-lodge held their secret fast, and none suspected when the
charred body which was called Rudolf Rassendyll's was laid to
quiet rest in the graveyard of the town of Zenda, hard by the
tomb of Herbert the forester. For we had from the first rejected
any idea of bringing the king's body to Strelsau and setting it
in the place of Mr. Rassendyll's. The difficulties of such an
undertaking were almost insuperable; in our hearts we did not
desire to conquer them. As a king Rudolf Rassendyll had died, as
a king let him lie. As a king he lay in his palace at Strelsau,
while the news of his murder at the hands of a confederate of
Rupert of Hentzau went forth to startle and appall the world. At
a mighty price our task had been made easy; many might have
doubted the living, none questioned the dead; suspicions which
might have gathered round a throne died away at the gate of a
vault. The king was dead. Who would ask if it were in truth the
king who lay in state in the great hall of the palace, or whether
the humble grave at Zenda held the bones of the last male
Elphberg? In the silence of the grave all murmurs and
questionings were hushed.
Throughout the day people had been passing and repassing through
the great hall. There, on a stately bier surmounted by a crown
and the drooping folds of the royal banner, lay Rudolf
Rassendyll. The highest officer guarded him; in the cathedral the
archbishop said a mass for his soul. He had lain there three
days; the evening of the third had come, and early on the morrow
he was to be buried. There is a little gallery in the hall, that
looks down on the spot where the bier stood; here was I on this
evening, and with me Queen Flavia. We were alone together, and
together we saw beneath us the calm face of the dead man. He was
clad in the white uniform in which he had been crowned; the
ribbon of the Red Rose was across his breast. His hand held a
true red rose, fresh and fragrant; Flavia herself had set it
there, that even in death he might not miss the chosen token of
her love. I had not spoken to her, nor she to me, since. we came
there. We watched the pomp round him, and the circles of people
that came to bring a wreath for him or to look upon his face. I
saw a girl come and kneel long at the bier's foot. She rose and
went away sobbing, leaving a little circlet of flowers. It was
Rosa Holf. I saw women come and go weeping, and men bite their
lips as they passed by. Rischenheim came, pale-faced and
troubled; and while all came and went, there, immovable, with
drawn sword, in military stiffness, old Sapt stood at the head of
the bier, his eyes set steadily in front of him, and his body
never stirring from hour to hour through the long day.
A distant faint hum of voices reached us. The queen laid her hand
on my arm.
"It is the dream, Fritz," she said. "Hark! They speak of the
king; they speak in low voices and with grief, but they call him
king. It's what I saw in the dream. But he does not hear nor
heed. No, he can't hear nor heed even when I call him my king."
A sudden impulse came on me, and I turned to her, asking:
"What had he decided, madam? Would he have been king?" She
started a little.
"He didn't tell me," she answered, "and I didn't think of it
while he spoke to me."
"Of what then did he speak, madam?"
"Only of his love--of nothing but his love, Fritz," she answered.
Well, I take it that when a man comes to die, love is more to him
than a kingdom: it may be, if we could see truly, that it is more
to him even while he lives.
"Of nothing but his great love for me, Fritz," she said again.
"And my love brought him to his death."
"He wouldn't have had it otherwise," said I.
"No," she whispered; and she leant over the parapet of the
gallery, stretching out her arms to him. But he lay still and
quiet, not hearing and not heeding what she murmured, "My king!
my king!" It was even as it had been in the dream.
That night James, the servant, took leave of his dead master and
of us. He carried to England by word of mouth--for we dared write
nothing down--the truth concerning the King of Ruritania and Mr.
Rassendyll. It was to be told to the Earl of Burlesdon, Rudolf's
brother, under a pledge of secrecy; and to this day the earl is
the only man besides ourselves who knows the story. His errand
done, James returned in order to enter the queen's service, in
which he still is; and he told us that when Lord Burlesdon had
heard the story he sat silent for a great while, and then said:
"He did well. Some day I will visit his grave. Tell her Majesty
that there is still a Rassendyll, if she has need of one."
The offer was such as should come from a man of Rudolf's name,
yet I trust that the queen needs no further service than such as
it is our humble duty and dear delight to render her. It is our
part to strive to lighten the burden that she bears, and by our
love to assuage her undying grief. For she reigns now in
Ruritania alone, the last of all the Elphbergs; and her only joy
is to talk of Mr. Rassendyll with those few who knew him, her
only hope that she may some day be with him again.
In great pomp we laid him to his rest in the vault of the kings
of Ruritania in the Cathedral of Strelsau. There he lies among
the princes of the House of Elphberg. I think that if there be
indeed any consciousness among the dead, or any knowledge of what
passes in the world they have left, they should be proud to call
him brother. There rises in memory of him a stately monument, and
people point it out to one another as the memorial of King
Rudolf. I go often to the spot, and recall in thought all that
passed when he came the first time to Zenda, and again on his
second coming. For I mourn him as a man mourns a trusted leader
and a loved comrade, and I should have asked no better than to be
allowed to serve him all my days. Yet I serve the queen, and in
that I do most truly serve her lover.
Times change for all of us. The roaring flood of youth goes by,
and the stream of life sinks to a quiet flow. Sapt is an old man
now; soon my sons will be grown up, men enough themselves to
serve Queen Flavia. Yet the memory of Rudolf Rassendyll is fresh
to me as on the day he died, and the vision of the death of
Rupert of Hentzau dances often before my eyes. It may be that
some day the whole story shall be told, and men shall judge of it
for themselves. To me it seems now as though all had ended well.
I must not be misunderstood: my heart is still sore for the loss
of him. But we saved the queen's fair fame, and to Rudolf himself
the fatal stroke came as a relief from a choice too difficult: on
the one side lay what impaired his own honor, on the other what
threatened hers. As I think on this my anger at his death is
less, though my grief cannot be. To this day I know not how he
chose; no, and I don't know how he should have chosen. Yet he had
chosen, for his face was calm and clear.
Come, I have thought so much of him that I will go now and stand
before his monument, taking with me my last-born son, a little
lad of ten. He is not too young to desire to serve the queen, and
not too young to learn to love and reverence him who sleeps there
in the vault and was in his life the noblest gentleman I have known.
I will take the boy with me and tell him what I may of brave King
Rudolf, how he fought and how he loved, and how he held the
queen's honor and his own above all things in this world. The boy
is not too young to learn such lessons from the life of Mr.
Rassendyll. And while we stand there I will turn again into his
native tongue--for, alas, the young rogue loves his toy soldiers
better than his Latin!--the inscription that the queen wrote with
her own hand, directing that it should be inscribed in that
stately tongue over the tomb in which her life lies buried.
"To Rudolf, who reigned lately in this city, and reigns for ever
in her heart.--QUEEN FLAVIA."
I told him the meaning, and he spelt the big words over in his
childish voice; at first he stumbled, but the second time he had
it right, and recited with a little touch of awe in his fresh
Qui in hac civitate nuper regnavit
In corde ipsius in aeternum regnat
I felt his hand tremble in mine, and he looked up in my face.
"God save the Queen, father," said he.