Part 2 out of 4
"The crowned King!"
"You're mad!" I cried.
"If we go back and tell the trick we played, what would you
give for our lives?"
"Just what they're worth," said I.
"And for the King's throne? Do you think that the nobles
and the people will enjoy being fooled as you've fooled them?
Do you think they'll love a King who was too drunk to be crowned,
and sent a servant to personate him?"
"He was drugged--and I'm no servant."
"Mine will be Black Michael's version."
He rose, came to me, and laid his hand on my shoulder.
"Lad," he said, "if you play the man, you may save the King yet.
Go back and keep his throne warm for him."
"But the duke knows--the villains he has employed know--"
"Ay, but they can't speak!" roared Sapt in grim triumph.
"We've got 'em! How can they denounce you without
denouncing themselves? "This is not the King, because we
kidnapped the King and murdered his servant." Can they say that?"
The position flashed on me. Whether Michael knew me or not,
he could not speak. Unless he produced the King, what could he do?
And if he produced the King, where was he? For a moment I was carried away
headlong; but in an instant the difficulties came strong upon me.
"I must be found out," I urged.
"Perhaps; but every hour's something. Above all, we must have a King
in Strelsau, or the city will be Michael's in four-and-twenty hours,
and what would the King's life be worth then--or his throne?
Lad, you must do it!"
"Suppose they kill the King?"
"They'll kill him, if you don't."
"Sapt, suppose they have killed the King?"
"Then, by heaven, you're as good an Elphberg as Black Michael,
and you shall reign in Ruritania! But I don't believe they have;
nor will they kill him if you're on the throne. Will they kill him,
to put you in?"
It was a wild plan--wilder even and more hopeless than the trick
we had already carried through; but as I listened to Sapt
I saw the strong points in our game. And then I was a young man
and I loved action, and I was offered such a hand in such a game
as perhaps never man played yet.
"I shall be found out," I said.
"Perhaps," said Sapt. "Come! to Strelsau! We shall be caught like rats
in a trap if we stay here."
"Sapt," I cried, "I'll try it!"
"Well played!" said he. "I hope they've left us the horses.
I'll go and see."
"We must bury that poor fellow," said I.
"No time," said Sapt.
"I'll do it."
"Hang you!" he grinned. "I make you a King, and--Well, do it.
Go and fetch him, while I look to the horses. He can't lie very deep,
but I doubt if he'll care about that. Poor little Josef! He was
an honest bit of a man."
He went out, and I went to the cellar. I raised poor Josef in
my arms and bore him into the passage and thence towards the
door of the house. Just inside I laid him down, remembering
that I must find spades for our task. At this instant Sapt came up.
"The horses are all right; there's the own brother to the one
that brought you here. But you may save yourself that job."
"I'll not go before he's buried."
"Yes, you will."
"Not I, Colonel Sapt; not for all Ruritania."
"You fool!" said he. "Come here."
He drew me to the door. The moon was sinking, but about
three hundred yards away, coming along the road from Zenda,
I made out a party of men. There were seven or eight of them;
four were on horseback and the rest were walking, and I saw
that they carried long implements, which I guessed to be
spades and mattocks, on their shoulders.
"They'll save you the trouble," said Sapt. "Come along."
He was right. The approaching party must, beyond doubt,
be Duke Michael's men, come to remove the traces of their evil work.
I hesitated no longer, but an irresistible desire seized me.
Pointing to the corpse of poor little Josef, I said to Sapt:
"Colonel, we ought to strike a blow for him!"
"You'd like to give him some company, eh! But it's too
risky work, your Majesty."
"I must have a slap at 'em," said I.
"Well," said he, "it's not business, you know; but you've been
good boy--and if we come to grief, why, hang me, it'll save us
lot of thinking! I'll show you how to touch them."
He cautiously closed the open chink of the door.
Then we retreated through the house and made our way to
the back entrance. Here our horses were standing.
A carriage- drive swept all round the lodge.
"Revolver ready?" asked Sapt.
"No; steel for me," said I.
"Gad, you're thirsty tonight," chuckled Sapt. "So be it."
We mounted, drawing our swords, and waited silently for a
minute or two. Then we heard the tramp of men on the drive
the other side of the house. They came to a stand, and one cried:
"Now then, fetch him out!"
"Now!" whispered Sapt.
Driving the spurs into our horses, we rushed at a gallop
round the house, and in a moment we were among the ruffians.
Sapt told me afterwards that he killed a man, and I believe him;
but I saw no more of him. With a cut, I split the head of a fellow
on a brown horse, and he fell to the ground. Then I found myself
opposite a big man, and I was half conscious of another to my right.
It was too warm to stay, and with a simultaneous action
I drove my spurs into my horse again and my sword full into
the big man's breast. His bullet whizzed past my ear--
I could almost swear it touched it. I wrenched at the sword,
but it would not come, and I dropped it and galloped after Sapt,
whom I now saw about twenty yards ahead. I waved my hand
in farewell, and dropped it a second later with a yell,
for a bullet had grazed my finger and I felt the blood.
Old Sapt turned round in the saddle. Someone fired again,
but they had no rifles, and we were out of range. Sapt fell to laughing.
"That's one to me and two to you, with decent luck," said he.
"Little Josef will have company."
"Ay, they'll be a partie carree," said I. My blood was up,
and I rejoiced to have killed them.
"Well, a pleasant night's work to the rest!" said he.
"I wonder if they noticed you?"
"The big fellow did; as I stuck him I heard him cry, "The King!""
"Good! good! Oh, we'll give Black Michael some work before we've done!"
Pausing an instant, we made a bandage for my wounded finger,
which was bleeding freely and ached severely, the bone being much bruised.
Then we rode on, asking of our good horses all that was in them.
The excitement of the fight and of our great resolve died away,
and we rode in gloomy silence. Day broke clear and cold.
We found a farmer just up, and made him give us sustenance
for ourselves and our horses. I, feigning a toothache,
muffled my face closely. Then ahead again, till Strelsau
lay before us. It was eight o'clock or nearing nine,
and the gates were all open, as they always were save when
the duke's caprice or intrigues shut them. We rode in by
the same way as we had come out the evening before, all four of us--
the men and the horses--wearied and jaded. The streets were even
quieter than when we had gone: everyone was sleeping off last
night's revelry, and we met hardly a soul till we reached the
little gate of the Palace. There Sapt's old groom was waiting for us.
"Is all well, sir?" he asked.
"All's well," said Sapt, and the man, coming to me,
took my hand to kiss.
"The King's hurt!" he cried.
"It's nothing," said I, as I dismounted; "I caught my finger
in the door."
"Remember--silence!" said Sapt. "Ah! but, my good Freyler,
I do not need to tell you that!"
The old fellow shrugged his shoulders.
"All young men like to ride abroad now and again, why not the King?"
said he; and Sapt's laugh left his opinion of my motives undisturbed.
"You should always trust a man," observed Sapt, fitting the
key in the lock, "just as far as you must."
We went in and reached the dressing-room. Flinging open
the door, we saw Fritz von Tarlenheim stretched, fully dressed,
on the sofa. He seemed to have been sleeping, but our entry
woke him. He leapt to his feet, gave one glance at me, and with
a joyful cry, threw himself on his knees before me.
"Thank God, sire! thank God, you're safe!" he cried,
stretching his hand up to catch hold of mine.
I confess that I was moved. This King, whatever his faults,
made people love him. For a moment I could not bear to speak
or break the poor fellow's illusion. But tough old Sapt had
no such feeling. He slapped his hand on his thigh delightedly.
"Bravo, lad!" cried he. "We shall do!"
Fritz looked up in bewilderment. I held out my hand.
"You're wounded, sire!" he exclaimed.
"It's only a scratch," said I, "but--" I paused.
He rose to his feet with a bewildered air. Holding my hand,
he looked me up and down, and down and up. Then suddenly
he dropped my hand and reeled back.
"Where's the King? Where's the King?" he cried.
"Hush, you fool!" hissed Sapt. "Not so loud! Here's the King!"
A knock sounded on the door. Sapt seized me by the hand.
"Here, quick, to the bedroom! Off with your cap and boots.
Get into bed. Cover everything up."
I did as I was bid. A moment later Sapt looked in, nodded,
grinned, and introduced an extremely smart and deferential
young gentleman, who came up to my bedside, bowing again
and again, and informed me that he was of the household
of the Princess Flavia, and that her Royal Highness had
sent him especially to enquire how the King's health was
after the fatigues which his Majesty had undergone yesterday.
"My best thanks, sir, to my cousin," said I; "and tell her
Royal Highness that I was never better in my life."
"The King," added old Sapt (who, I began to find, loved a good lie
for its own sake), "has slept without a break all night."
The young gentleman (he reminded me of "Osric" in Hamlet)
bowed himself out again. The farce was over, and Fritz von
Tarlenheim's pale face recalled us to reality--though, in faith,
the farce had to be reality for us now.
"Is the King dead?" he whispered.
"Please God, no," said I. "But he's in the hands of Black Michael!"
A Fair Cousin and a Dark Brother
A real king's life is perhaps a hard one; but a pretended king's is,
I warrant, much harder. On the next day, Sapt instructed me
in my duties--what I ought to do and what I ought to know--
for three hours; then I snatched breakfast, with Sapt
still opposite me, telling me that the King always took white wine
in the morning and was known to detest all highly seasoned dishes.
Then came the Chancellor, for another three hours; and to him
I had to explain that the hurt to my finger (we turned that bullet
to happy account) prevented me from writing--whence arose
great to-do, hunting of precedents and so forth, ending in
my "making my mark," and the Chancellor attesting it with
a superfluity of solemn oaths. Then the French ambassador was
introduced, to present his credentials; here my ignorance
was of no importance, as the King would have been equally raw
to the business (we worked through the whole corps diplomatique in the
next few days, a demise of the Crown necessitating all this bother).
Then, at last, I was left alone. I called my new servant
(we had chosen, to succeed poor Josef, a young man who
had never known the King), had a brandy-and-soda brought to me,
and observed to Sapt that I trusted that I might now have a rest.
Fritz von Tarlenheim was standing by.
"By heaven!" he cried, "we waste time. Aren't we going
to throw Black Michael by the heels?"
"Gently, my son, gently," said Sapt, knitting his brows.
"It would be a pleasure, but it might cost us dear.
Would Michael fall and leave the King alive?"
"And," I suggested, "while the King is here in Strelsau,
on his throne, what grievance has he against his dear
"Are we to do nothing, then?"
"We're to do nothing stupid," growled Sapt.
"In fact, Fritz," said I, "I am reminded of a situation in one
of our English plays--The Critic--have you heard of it? Or, if you
like, of two men, each covering the other with a revolver. For I can't
expose Michael without exposing myself--"
"And the King," put in Sapt.
"And, hang me if Michael won't expose himself, if he tries
to expose me!"
"It's very pretty," said old Sapt.
"If I'm found out," I pursued, "I will make a clean breast of it,
and fight it out with the duke; but at present I'm waiting for a
move from him."
"He'll kill the King," said Fritz.
"Not he," said Sapt.
"Half of the Six are in Strelsau," said Fritz.
"Only half? You're sure?" asked Sapt eagerly.
"Then the King's alive, for the other three are guarding him!"
"Yes--you're right!" exclaimed Fritz, his face brightening.
"If the King were dead and buried, they'd all be here with Michael.
You know Michael's back, colonel?"
"I know, curse him!"
"Gentlemen, gentlemen," said I, "who are the Six?"
"I think you'll make their acquaintance soon," said Sapt.
"They are six gentlemen whom Michael maintains in his household:
they belong to him body and soul. There are three Ruritanians;
then there's a Frenchman, a Belgian, and one of your countrymen."
"They'd all cut a throat if Michael told them," said Fritz.
"Perhaps they'll cut mine," I suggested.
"Nothing more likely," agreed Sapt. "Who are here, Fritz?"
"De Gautet, Bersonin, and Detchard."
"The foreigners! It's as plain as a pikestaff. He's brought them,
and left the Ruritanians with the King; that's because he wants
to commit the Ruritanians as deep as he can."
"They were none of them among our friends at the lodge, then?" I asked.
"I wish they had been," said Sapt wistfully. "They had been,
not six, but four, by now."
I had already developed one attribute of royalty--a feeling
that I need not reveal all my mind or my secret designs even to
my intimate friends. I had fully resolved on my course of action.
I meant to make myself as popular as I could, and at the same
time to show no disfavour to Michael. By these means I hoped
to allay the hostility of his adherents, and make it appear, if an
open conflict came about, that he was ungrateful and not oppressed.
Yet an open conflict was not what I hoped for.
The King's interest demanded secrecy; and while secrecy lasted,
I had a fine game to play in Strelsau, Michael should not grow
stronger for delay!
I ordered my horse, and, attended by Fritz von Tarlenheim,
rode in the grand new avenue of the Royal Park, returning all
the salutes which I received with punctilious politeness.
Then I rode through a few of the streets, stopped and bought flowers
of a pretty girl, paying her with a piece of gold; and then,
having attracted the desired amount of attention (for I had a trail
of half a thousand people after me), I rode to the residence
of the Princess Flavia, and asked if she would receive me.
This step created much interest, and was met with shouts of approval.
The princess was very popular, and the Chancellor himself had
not scrupled to hint to me that the more I pressed my suit,
and the more rapidly I brought it to a prosperous conclusion,
the stronger should I be in the affection of my subjects.
The Chancellor, of course, did not understand the difficulties which
lay in the way of following his loyal and excellent advice.
However, I thought I could do no harm by calling; and in this
view Fritz supported me with a cordiality that surprised me,
until he confessed that he also had his motives for liking a visit
to the princess's house, which motive was no other than a great
desire to see the princess's lady-in-waiting and bosom friend,
the Countess Helga von Strofzin.
Etiquette seconded Fritz's hopes. While I was ushered into
the princess's room, he remained with the countess in the
ante-chamber: in spite of the people and servants who were
hanging about, I doubt not that they managed a tete-a-tete;
but I had no leisure to think of them, for I was playing the most
delicate move in all my difficult game. I had to keep the princess
devoted to me--and yet indifferent to me: I had to show affection
for her--and not feel it. I had to make love for another,
and that to a girl who--princess or no princess--was the most
beautiful I had ever seen. Well, I braced myself to the task,
made no easier by the charming embarrassment with which I
was received. How I succeeded in carrying out my programme
will appear hereafter.
"You are gaining golden laurels," she said. "You are like the
prince in Shakespeare who was transformed by becoming king.
But I'm forgetting you are King, sire."
"I ask you to speak nothing but what your heart tells you--
and to call me nothing but my name."
She looked at me for a moment.
"Then I'm glad and proud, Rudolf," said she. "Why, as I told you,
your very face is changed."
I acknowledged the compliment, but I disliked the topic; so I said:
"My brother is back, I hear. He made an excursion, didn't he?"
"Yes, he is here," she said, frowning a little.
"He can't stay long from Strelsau, it seems," I observed, smiling.
"Well, we are all glad to see him. The nearer he is, the better."
The princess glanced at me with a gleam of amusement in her eyes.
"Why, cousin? Is it that you can--?"
"See better what he's doing? Perhaps," said I. "And why are you glad?"
"I didn't say I was glad," she answered.
"Some people say so for you."
"There are many insolent people," she said, with delightful haughtiness.
"Possibly you mean that I am one?"
"Your Majesty could not be," she said, curtseying in feigned
deference, but adding, mischievously, after a pause: "Unless,
"Well, unless what?"
"Unless you tell me that I mind a snap of my fingers where
the Duke of Strelsau is."
Really, I wished that I had been the King.
"You don't care where cousin Michael--"
"Ah, cousin Michael! I call him the Duke of Strelsau."
"You call him Michael when you meet him?"
"Yes--by the orders of your father."
"I see. And now by mine?"
"If those are your orders."
"Oh, decidedly! We must all be pleasant to our dear Michael."
"You order me to receive his friends, too, I suppose?"
"You call them that, too?"
"To be in the fashion, I do. But I order you to receive
no one unless you like."
"I pray for myself. I could not order."
As I spoke, there came a cheer from the street. The princess
ran to the window.
"It is he!" she cried. "It is--the Duke of Strelsau!"
I smiled, but said nothing. She returned to her seat. For a few
moments we sat in silence. The noise outside subsided, but I
heard the tread of feet in the ante-room. I began to talk on
general subjects. This went on for some minutes. I wondered
what had become of Michael, but it did not seem to be for me
to interfere. All at once, to my great surprise, Flavia, clasping
her hands asked in an agitated voice:
"Are you wise to make him angry?"
"What? Who? How am I making him angry?"
"Why, by keeping him waiting."
"My dear cousin, I don't want to keep him--"
"Well, then, is he to come in?"
"Of course, if you wish it."
She looked at me curiously.
"How funny you are," she said. "Of course no one could
be announced while I was with you."
Here was a charming attribute of royalty!
"An excellent etiquette!" I cried. "But I had clean forgotten it;
and if I were alone with someone else, couldn't you be announced?"
"You know as well as I do. I could be, because I am of the Blood;"
and she still looked puzzled.
"I never could remember all these silly rules," said I, rather feebly,
as I inwardly cursed Fritz for not posting me up. "But I'll repair my fault."
I jumped up, flung open the door, and advanced into the ante-room.
Michael was sitting at a table, a heavy frown on his face.
Everyone else was standing, save that impudent young dog Fritz,
who was lounging easily in an armchair, and flirting with the Countess Helga.
He leapt up as I entered, with a deferential alacrity that lent point
to his former nonchalance. I had no difficulty in understanding
that the duke might not like young Fritz.
I held out my hand, Michael took it, and I embraced him.
Then I drew him with me into the inner room.
"Brother," I said, "if I had known you were here, you should
not have waited a moment before I asked the princess to permit
me to bring you to her."
He thanked me, but coldly. The man had many qualities, but he
could not hide his feelings. A mere stranger could have seen
that he hated me, and hated worse to see me with Princess Flavia;
yet I am persuaded that he tried to conceal both feelings, and, further,
that he tried to persuade me that he believed I was verily the King.
I did not know, of course; but, unless the King were an impostor,
at once cleverer and more audacious than I (and I began to think
something of myself in that role), Michael could not believe that.
And, if he didn't, how he must have loathed paying me deference,
and hearing my "Michael" and my "Flavia!"
"Your hand is hurt, sire," he observed, with concern.
"Yes, I was playing a game with a mongrel dog" (I meant to stir him),
"and you know, brother, such have uncertain tempers."
He smiled sourly, and his dark eyes rested on me for a moment.
"But is there no danger from the bite?" cried Flavia anxiously.
"None from this," said I. "If I gave him a chance to bite deeper,
it would be different, cousin."
"But surely he has been destroyed?" said she.
"Not yet. We're waiting to see if his bite is harmful."
"And if it is?" asked Michael, with his sour smile.
"He'll be knocked on the head, brother," said I.
"You won't play with him any more?" urged Flavia.
"Perhaps I shall."
"He might bite again."
"Doubtless he'll try," said I, smiling.
Then, fearing Michael would say something which I must
appear to resent (for, though I might show him my hate,
I must seem to be full of favour), I began to compliment him
on the magnificent condition of his regiment, and of their
loyal greeting to me on the day of my coronation.
Thence I passed to a rapturous description of the hunting-lodge
which he had lent me. But he rose suddenly to his feet.
His temper was failing him, and, with an excuse, he said farewell.
However, as he reached the door he stopped, saying:
"Three friends of mine are very anxious to have the honour of
being presented to you, sire. They are here in the ante-chamber."
I joined him directly, passing my arm through his. The look
on his face was honey to me. We entered the ante-chamber
in fraternal fashion. Michael beckoned, and three men came forward.
"These gentlemen," said Michael, with a stately courtesy which,
to do him justice, he could assume with perfect grace and ease,
"are the loyalest and most devoted of your Majesty's servants,
and are my very faithful and attached friends."
"On the last ground as much as the first," said I, "I am very
pleased to see them."
They came one by one and kissed my hand--De Gautet, a tall
lean fellow, with hair standing straight up and waxed moustache;
Bersonin, the Belgian, a portly man of middle height with
a bald head (though he was not far past thirty); and last,
the Englishman, Detchard, a narrow-faced fellow, with close-cut
fair hair and a bronzed complexion. He was a finely made man,
broad in the shoulder and slender in the hips. A good fighter,
but a crooked customer, I put him down for. I spoke to him in
English, with a slight foreign accent, and I swear the fellow smiled,
though he hid the smile in an instant.
"So Mr. Detchard is in the secret," thought I.
Having got rid of my dear brother and his friends, I returned
to make my adieu to my cousin. She was standing at the door.
I bade her farewell, taking her hand in mine.
"Rudolf," she said, very low, "be careful, won't you?"
"You know--I can't say. But think what your life is to--"
Was I right to play the part, or wrong to play the part?
I know not: evil lay both ways, and I dared not tell her the truth.
"Only to Ruritania?" I asked softly.
A sudden flush spread over her incomparable face.
"To your friends, too," she said.
"And to your cousin," she whispered, "and loving servant."
I could not speak. I kissed her hand, and went out cursing myself.
Outside I found Master Fritz, quite reckless of the footmen,
playing at cat's-cradle with the Countess Helga.
"Hang it!" said he, "we can't always be plotting.
Love claims his share."
"I'm inclined to think he does," said I; and Fritz,
who had been by my side, dropped respectfully behind.
A New Use for a Tea-table
If I were to detail the ordinary events of my daily life at this time,
they might prove instructive to people who are not familiar with
the inside of palaces; if I revealed some of the secrets I learnt,
they might prove of interest to the statesmen of Europe.
I intend to do neither of these things. I should be between
the Scylla of dullness and the Charybdis of indiscretion,
and I feel that I had far better confine myself strictly
to the underground drama which was being played beneath
the surface of Ruritanian politics. I need only say that
the secret of my imposture defied detection. I made mistakes.
I had bad minutes: it needed all the tact and graciousness whereof
I was master to smooth over some apparent lapses of memory and unmindfulness
of old acquaintances of which I was guilty. But I escaped,
and I attribute my escape, as I have said before, most of all,
to the very audacity of the enterprise. It is my belief that,
given the necessary physical likeness, it was far easier to pretend
to be King of Ruritania than it would have been to personate
my next-door neighbour.
One day Sapt came into my room. He threw me a letter, saying:
"That's for you--a woman's hand, I think. But I've some
news for you first."
"The King's at the Castle of Zenda," said he.
"How do you know?,
"Because the other half of Michael's Six are there. I had
enquiries made, and they're all there--Lauengram, Krafstein,
and young Rupert Hentzau: three rogues, too, on my honour,
as fine as live in Ruritania."
"Well, Fritz wants you to march to the Castle with horse,
foot, and artillery."
"And drag the moat?'I asked.
"That would be about it," grinned Sapt, "and we shouldn't
find the King's body then."
"You think it's certain he's there?"
"Very probable. Besides the fact of those three being there,
the drawbridge is kept up, and no one goes in without an order
from young Hentzau or Black Michael himself. We must tie Fritz up."
"I'll go to Zenda," said I.
"Oh, perhaps. You'll very likely stay there though, if you do."
"That may be, my friend," said I carelessly.
"His Majesty looks sulky," observed Sapt. "How's the love affair?"
"Damn you, hold your tongue!" I said.
He looked at me for a moment, then he lit his pipe. It was
quite true that I was in a bad temper, and I went on perversely:
"Wherever I go, I'm dodged by half a dozen fellows."
"I know you are; I send 'em," he replied composedly.
"Well," said Sapt, puffing away, "it wouldn't be exactly
inconvenient for Black Michael if you disappeared. With you gone,
the old game that we stopped would be played--or he'd have a shot at it."
"I can take care of myself."
"De Gautet, Bersonin, and Detchard are in Strelsau; and any one of them,
lad, would cut your throat as readily--as readily as I would Black Michael's,
and a deal more treacherously. What's the letter?"
I opened it and read it aloud:
"If the King desires to know what it deeply concerns the King to know,
let him do as this letter bids him. At the end of the New Avenue there
stands a house in large grounds. The house has a portico, with a statue
of a nymph on it. A wall encloses the garden; there is a gate in the wall at
the back. At twelve o'clock tonight, if the King enters alone by that gate,
turns to the right, and walks twenty yards, he will find a summerhouse,
approached by a flight of six steps. If he mounts and enters, he will
find someone who will tell him what touches most dearly his life and
his throne. This is written by a faithful friend. He must be alone.
If he neglects the invitation his life will be in danger. Let him show
this to no one, or he will ruin a woman who loves him: Black Michael
does not pardon."
"No," observed Sapt, as I ended, "but he can dictate a very pretty letter."
I had arrived at the same conclusion, and was about to throw
the letter away, when I saw there was more writing on the other side.
"Hallo! there's some more."
"If you hesitate," the writer continued, "consult Colonel Sapt--"
"Eh," exclaimed that gentleman, genuinely astonished.
"Does she take me for a greater fool than you?"
I waved to him to be silent.
"Ask him what woman would do most to prevent the duke from
marrying his cousin,and therefore most to prevent him becoming king?
And ask if her name begins with--A? "
I sprang to my feet. Sapt laid down his pipe.
"Antoinette de Mauban, by heaven!" I cried.
"How do you know?'asked Sapt.
I told him what I knew of the lady, and how I knew it. He nodded.
"It's so far true that she's had a great row with Michael,"
said he, thoughtfully.
"If she would, she could be useful," I said.
"I believe, though, that Michael wrote that letter."
"So do I, but I mean to know for certain. I shall go, Sapt."
"No, I shall go," said he.
"You may go as far as the gate."
"I shall go to the summer-house."
"I'm hanged if you shall!"
I rose and leant my back against the mantelpiece.
"Sapt, I believe in that woman, and I shall go."
"I don't believe in any woman," said Sapt, "and you shan't go."
"I either go to the summer-house or back to England," said I.
Sapt began to know exactly how far he could lead or drive,
and when he must follow.
"We're playing against time," I added. "Every day we leave
the King where he is there is fresh risk. Every day I masquerade like
this, there is fresh risk. Sapt, we must play high; we must force the game."
"So be it," he said, with a sigh.
To cut the story short, at half-past eleven that night Sapt and I
mounted our horses. Fritz was again left on guard, our destination
not being revealed to him. It was a very dark night. I wore
no sword, but I carried a revolver, a long knife, and a
bull's-eye lantern. We arrived outside the gate. I dismounted.
Sapt held out his hand.
"I shall wait here," he said. "If I hear a shot, I'll--"
"Stay where you are; it's the King's only chance. You mustn't
come to grief too."
"You're right, lad. Good luck!"
I pressed the little gate. It yielded, and I found myself in
a wild sort of shrubbery. There was a grass-grown path and,
turning to the right as I had been bidden, I followed it cautiously.
My lantern was closed, the revolver was in my hand. I heard
not a sound. Presently a large dark object loomed out of the
gloom ahead of me. It was the summer-house. Reaching the
steps, I mounted them and found myself confronted by a weak,
rickety wooden door, which hung upon the latch. I pushed it
open and walked in. A woman flew to me and seized my hand.
"Shut the door," she whispered.
I obeyed and turned the light of my lantern on her. She was in
evening dress, arrayed very sumptuously, and her dark striking
beauty was marvellously displayed in the glare of the bull's-eye.
The summer-house was a bare little room, furnished only with
a couple of chairs and a small iron table, such as one sees
in a tea garden or an open-air cafe.
"Don't talk," she said. "We've no time. Listen! I know you,
Mr. Rassendyll. I wrote that letter at the duke's orders."
"So I thought," said I.
"In twenty minutes three men will be here to kill you."
"Yes. You must be gone by then. If not, tonight you'll be killed--"
"Or they will."
"Listen, listen! When you're killed, your body will be taken
to a low quarter of the town. It will be found there. Michael will
at once arrest all your friends--Colonel Sapt and Captain von
Tarlenheim first--proclaim a state of siege in Strelsau, and send
a messenger to Zenda. The other three will murder the King
in the Castle, and the duke will proclaim either himself or
the princess--himself, if he is strong enough. Anyhow, he'll marry her,
and become king in fact, and soon in name. Do you see?"
"It's a pretty plot. But why, madame, do you--?"
"Say I'm a Christian--or say I'm jealous. My God! shall I see
him marry her? Now go; but remember--this is what I have to
tell you--that never, by night or by day, are you safe.
Three men follow you as a guard. Is it not so? Well, three follow them;
Michael's three are never two hundred yards from you. Your life
is not worth a moment if ever they find you alone. Now go.
Stay, the gate will be guarded by now. Go down softly,
go past the summer-house, on for a hundred yards,
and you'll find a ladder against the wall. Get over it,
and fly for your life."
"And you?" I asked.
"I have my game to play too. If he finds out what I have done,
we shall not meet again. If not, I may yet--But never mind.
Go at once."
"But what will you tell him?"
"That you never came--that you saw through the trick."
I took her hand and kissed it.
"Madame," said I, "you have served the King well tonight.
Where is he in the Castle?"
She sank her voice to a fearful whisper. I listened eagerly.
"Across the drawbridge you come to a heavy door;
behind that lies--Hark! What's that?"
There were steps outside.
"They're coming! They're too soon! Heavens! they're too soon!"
and she turned pale as death.
"They seem to me," said I, "to be in the nick of time."
"Close your lantern. See, there's a chink in the door.
Can you see them?"
I put my eye to the chink. On the lowest step I saw three dim figures.
I cocked my revolver. Antoinette hastily laid her hand on mine.
"You may kill one," said she. "But what then?"
A voice came from outside--a voice that spoke perfect English.
"Mr. Rassendyll," it said.
I made no answer.
"We want to talk to you. Will you promise not to shoot
till we've done?"
"Have I the pleasure of addressing Mr. Detchard?" I said.
"Never mind names."
"Then let mine alone."
"All right, sire. I've an offer for you."
I still had my eye to the chink. The three had mounted two
steps more; three revolvers pointed full at the door.
"Will you let us in? We pledge our honour to observe the truce."
"Don't trust them," whispered Antoinette.
"We can speak through the door," said I.
"But you might open it and fire," objected Detchard;
"and though we should finish you, you might finish one of us.
Will you give your honour not to fire while we talk?"
"Don't trust them," whispered Antoinette again.
A sudden idea struck me. I considered it for a moment.
It seemed feasible.
"I give my honour not to fire before you do," said I;
"but I won't let you in. Stand outside and talk."
"That's sensible," he said.
The three mounted the last step, and stood just outside the door.
I laid my ear to the chink. I could hear no words, but Detchard's
head was close to that of the taller of his companions (De Gautet,
"H'm! Private communications," thought I. Then I said aloud:
"Well, gentlemen, what's the offer?"
"A safe-conduct to the frontier, and fifty thousand pounds English."
"No, no," whispered Antoinette in the lowest of whispers.
"They are treacherous."
"That seems handsome," said I, reconnoitring through the chink.
They were all close together, just outside the door now.
I had probed the hearts of the ruffians, and I did not need
Antoinette's warning. They meant to "rush" me as soon as I was
engaged in talk.
"Give me a minute to consider," said I; and I thought I heard
a laugh outside.
I turned to Antoinette.
"Stand up close to the wall, out of the line of fire from the door,"
"What are you going to do?" she asked in fright.
"You'll see," said I.
I took up the little iron table. It was not very heavy for a man
of my strength, and I held it by the legs. The top, protruding
in front of me, made a complete screen for my head and body.
I fastened my closed lantern to my belt and put my revolver
in a handy pocket. Suddenly I saw the door move ever so slightly--
perhaps it was the wind, perhaps it was a hand trying it outside.
I drew back as far as I could from the door, holding the table
in the position that I have described. Then I called out:
"Gentlemen, I accept your offer, relying on your honour.
If you will open the door--"
"Open it yourself," said Detchard.
"It opens outwards," said I. "Stand back a little, gentlemen,
or I shall hit you when I open it."
I went and fumbled with the latch. Then I stole back to my
place on tiptoe.
"I can't open it!" I cried. "The latch has caught."
"Tut! I'll open it!" cried Detchard. "Nonsense, Bersonin,
why not? Are you afraid of one man?"
I smiled to myself. An instant later the door was flung back.
The gleam of a lantern showed me the three close together outside,
their revolvers levelled. With a shout, I charged at my utmost pace
across the summer-house and through the doorway. Three shots rang out
and battered into my shield. Another moment, and I leapt out and the
table caught them full and square, and in a tumbling, swearing,
struggling mass, they and I and that brave table,
rolled down the steps of the summerhouse to the ground below.
Antoinette de Mauban shrieked, but I rose to my feet, laughing aloud.
De Gautet and Bersonin lay like men stunned. Detchard was under
the table, but, as I rose, he pushed it from him and fired again.
I raised my revolver and took a snap shot; I heard him curse,
and then I ran like a hare, laughing as I went, past the summer-house
and along by the wall. I heard steps behind me, and turning round
I fired again for luck. The steps ceased.
"Please God," said I, "she told me the truth about the ladder!"
for the wall was high and topped with iron spikes.
Yes, there it was. I was up and over in a minute. Doubling back,
I saw the horses; then I heard a shot. It was Sapt. He had heard us,
and was battling and raging with the locked gate, hammering it
and firing into the keyhole like a man possessed. He had quite
forgotten that he was not to take part in the fight.
Whereat I laughed again, and said, as I clapped him on the shoulder:
"Come home to bed, old chap. I've got the finest tea-table
story that ever you heard!"
He started and cried: "You're safe!" and wrung my hand.
But a moment later he added:
"And what the devil are you laughing at?"
"Four gentlemen round a tea-table," said I, laughing still,
for it had been uncommonly ludicrous to see the formidable three
altogether routed and scattered with no more deadly weapon
than an ordinary tea-table.
Moreover, you will observe that I had honourably kept my word,
and not fired till they did.
A Great Chance for a Villain
It was the custom that the Prefect of Police should send every
afternoon a report to me on the condition of the capital and the
feeling of the people: the document included also an account of
the movements of any persons whom the police had received
instructions to watch. Since I had been in Strelsau, Sapt had
been in the habit of reading the report and telling me any items
of interest which it might contain. On the day after my adventure
in the summer-house, he came in as I was playing a hand of ecarte
with Fritz von Tarlenheim.
"The report is rather full of interest this afternoon,"
he observed, sitting down.
"Do you find," I asked, "any mention of a certain fracas?"
He shook his head with a smile.
"I find this first," he said: ""His Highness the Duke of Strelsau
left the city (so far as it appears, suddenly), accompanied by
several of his household. His destination is believed to be the
Castle of Zenda, but the party travelled by road and not by train.
MM De Gautet, Bersonin, and Detchard followed an hour later,
the last-named carrying his arm in a sling. The cause
of his wound is not known, but it is suspected that he has fought
a duel, probably incidental to a love affair.""
"That is remotely true," I observed, very well pleased to find
that I had left my mark on the fellow.
"Then we come to this," pursued Sapt: ""Madame de Mauban,
whose movements have been watched according to instructions,
left by train at midday. She took a ticket for Dresden--"
"It's an old habit of hers," said I.
""The Dresden train stops at Zenda." An acute fellow, this.
And finally listen to this: "The state of feeling in the city
is not satisfactory. The King is much criticized" (you know,
he's told to be quite frank) "for taking no steps about his marriage.
From enquiries among the entourage of the Princess Flavia, her Royal
Highness is believed to be deeply offended by the remissness of
his Majesty. The common people are coupling her name with
that of the Duke of Strelsau, and the duke gains much popularity
from the suggestion. I have caused the announcement that the King
gives a ball tonight in honour of the princess to be widely diffused,
and the effect is good."
"That is news to me," said I.
"Oh, the preparations are all made!" laughed Fritz.
"I've seen to that."
Sapt turned to me and said, in a sharp, decisive voice:
"You must make love to her tonight, you know."
"I think it is very likely I shall, if I see her alone," said I.
"Hang it, Sapt, you don't suppose I find it difficult?"
Fritz whistled a bar or two; then he said: "You'll find it
only too easy. Look here, I hate telling you this, but I must.
The Countess Helga told me that the princess had become most
attached to the King. Since the coronation, her feelings have
undergone a marked development. It's quite true that she
is deeply wounded by the King's apparent neglect."
"Here's a kettle of fish!" I groaned.
"Tut, tut!" said Sapt. "I suppose you've made pretty speeches
to a girl before now? That's all she wants."
Fritz, himself a lover, understood better my distress.
He laid his hand on my shoulder, but said nothing.
"I think, though," pursued that cold-blooded old Sapt,
"that you'd better make your offer tonight."
"Or, any rate, go near it: and I shall send a "semi-official"
to the papers."
"I'll do nothing of the sort--no more will you!" said I.
"I utterly refuse to take part in making a fool of the princess."
Sapt looked at me with his small keen eyes. A slow cunning
smile passed over his face.
"All right, lad, all right," said he. "We mustn't press you
too hard. Soothe her down a bit, if you can, you know.
Now for Michael!"
"Oh, damn Michael!" said I. "He'll do tomorrow. Here, Fritz,
come for a stroll in the garden."
Sapt at once yielded. His rough manner covered a wonderful tact--
and as I came to recognize more and more, a remarkable knowledge
of human nature. Why did he urge me so little about the princess?
Because he knew that her beauty and my ardour would carry me further
than all his arguments--and that the less I thought about the thing,
the more likely was I to do it. He must have seen the unhappiness
he might bring on the princess; but that went for nothing with him.
Can I say, confidently, that he was wrong? If the King were restored,
the princess must turn to him, either knowing or not knowing the change.
And if the King were not restored to us? It was a subject that we had
never yet spoken of. But I had an idea that, in such a case, Sapt meant
to seat me on the throne of Ruritania for the term of my life.
He would have set Satan himself there sooner than that pupil of his,
The ball was a sumptuous affair. I opened it by dancing
a quadrille with Flavia: then I waltzed with her.
Curious eyes and eager whispers attended us.
We went in to supper; and, half way through,
I, half mad by then, for her glance had answered mine,
and her quick breathing met my stammered sentences--
I rose in my place before all the brilliant crowd,
and taking the Red Rose that I wore, flung the ribbon
with its jewelled badge round her neck. In a tumult
of applause I sat down: I saw Sapt smiling over his wine,
and Fritz frowning. The rest of the meal passed in silence;
neither Flavia nor I could speak. Fritz touched me on the shoulder,
and I rose, gave her my arm, and walked down the hall into
a little room,where coffee was served to us. The gentlemen and ladies
in attendance withdrew,and we were alone.
The little room had French windows opening on the gardens.
The night was fine, cool, and fragrant. Flavia sat down, and I
stood opposite her. I was struggling with myself: if she had
not looked at me, I believe that even then I should have won
my fight. But suddenly, involuntarily, she gave me one brief glance
--a glance of question, hurriedly turned aside; a blush that
the question had ever come spread over her cheek, and she
caught her breath. Ah, if you had seen her! I forgot the King
in Zenda. I forgot the King in Strelsau. She was a princess--
and I an impostor. Do you think I remembered that? I threw
myself on my knee and seized her hands in mine. I said nothing.
Why should I? The soft sounds of the night set my wooing
to a wordless melody, as I pressed my kisses on her lips.
She pushed me from her, crying suddenly:
"Ah! is it true? or is it only because you must?"
"It's true!" I said, in low smothered tones--
"true that I love you more than life--or truth--or honour!"
She set no meaning to my words, treating them as one of love's
sweet extravagances. She came close to me, and whispered:
"Oh, if you were not the King! Then I could show you
how I love you! How is it that I love you now, Rudolf?"
"Yes--just lately. I--I never did before."
Pure triumph filled me. It was I--Rudolf Rassendyll--
who had won her! I caught her round the waist.
"You didn't love me before?" I asked.
She looked up into my face, smiling, as she whispered:
"It must have been your Crown. I felt it first on the
"Never before?" I asked eagerly.
She laughed low.
"You speak as if you would be pleased to hear me say "Yes"
to that," she said.
"Would "Yes" be true?"
"Yes," I just heard her breathe, and she went on in an instant:
"Be careful, Rudolf; be careful, dear. He will be mad now."
"What, Michael? If Michael were the worst--"
"What worse is there?"
There was yet a chance for me. Controlling myself with a mighty effort,
I took my hands off her and stood a yard or two away. I remember now
the note of the wind in the elm trees outside.
"If I were not the King," I began, "if I were only a private gentleman--"
Before I could finish, her hand was in mine.
"If you were a convict in the prison of Strelsau,
you would be my King," she said.
And under my breath I groaned, "God forgive me!"
and, holding her hand in mine, I said again:
"If I were not the King--"
"Hush, hush!" she whispered. "I don't deserve it--I don't
deserve to be doubted. Ah, Rudolf! does a woman who marries
without love look on the man as I look on you?"
And she hid her face from me.
For more than a minute we stood there together; and I,
even with my arm about her, summoned up what honour and
conscience her beauty and the toils that I was in had left me.
"Flavia," I said, in a strange dry voice that seemed not my own,
"I am not--"
As I spoke--as she raised her eyes to me--there was a heavy
step on the gravel outside, and a man appeared at the window.
A little cry burst from Flavia, as she sprang back from me.
My half-finished sentence died on my lips. Sapt stood there,
bowing low, but with a stern frown on his face.
"A thousand pardons, sire," said he, "but his Eminence the Cardinal
has waited this quarter of an hour to offer his respectful adieu
to your Majesty."
I met his eye full and square; and I read in it an angry warning.
How long he had been a listener I knew not, but he had come in
upon us in the nick of time.
"We must not keep his Eminence waiting," said I.
But Flavia, in whose love there lay no shame, with radiant eyes
and blushing face, held out her hand to Sapt. She said nothing,
but no man could have missed her meaning, who had ever seen a woman
in the exultation of love. A sour, yet sad, smile passed over
the old soldier's face, and there was tenderness in his voice,
as bending to kiss her hand, he said:
"In joy and sorrow, in good times and bad, God save your
He paused and added, glancing at me and drawing himself up
to military erectness:
"But, before all comes the King--God save the King!"
And Flavia caught at my hand and kissed it, murmuring:
"Amen! Good God, Amen!"
We went into the ballroom again. Forced to receive adieus,
I was separated from Flavia: everyone, when they left me,
went to her. Sapt was out and in of the throng, and where
he had been, glances, smiles, and whispers were rife.
I doubted not that, true to his relentless purpose,
he was spreading the news that he had learnt. To uphold
the Crown and beat Black Michael--that was his one resolve.
Flavia, myself--ay, and the real King in Zenda, were pieces
in his game; and pawns have no business with passions.
Not even at the walls of the Palace did he stop; for when
at last I handed Flavia down the broad marble steps
and into her carriage, there was a great crowd awaiting us,
and we were welcomed with deafening cheers. What could I do?
Had I spoken then, they would have refused to believe that
I was not the King; they might have believed that
the King had run mad. By Sapt's devices and my own
ungoverned passion I had been forced on, and the way back
had closed behind me; and the passion still drove me
in the same direction as the devices seduced me.
I faced all Strelsau that night as the King and the
accepted suitor of the Princess Flavia.
At last, at three in the morning, when the cold light of
dawning day began to steal in, I was in my dressing-room,
and Sapt alone was with me. I sat like a man dazed,
staring into the fire; he puffed at his pipe; Fritz was gone to bed,
having almost refused to speak to me. On the table by me lay a rose;
it had been in Flavia's dress, and, as we parted, she had kissed it
and given it to me.
Sapt advanced his hand towards the rose, but, with a quick movement,
I shut mine down upon it.
"That's mine," I said, "not yours--nor the King's either."
"We struck a good blow for the King tonight," said he.
I turned on him fiercely.
"What's to prevent me striking a blow for myself?" I said.
He nodded his head.
"I know what's in your mind," he said. "Yes, lad;
but you're bound in honour."
"Have you left me any honour?"
"Oh, come, to play a little trick on a girl--"
"You can spare me that. Colonel Sapt, if you would not have
me utterly a villain--if you would not have your King rot
in Zenda, while Michael and I play for the great stake outside--
You follow me?"
"Ay, I follow you."
"We must act, and quickly! You saw tonight--you heard--tonight--"
"I did," said he.
"Your cursed acuteness told you what I should do. Well,
leave me here a week--and there's another problem for you.
Do you find the answer?"
"Yes, I find it," he answered, frowning heavily. "But if you
did that, you'd have to fight me first--and kill me."
"Well, and if I had--or a score of men? I tell you, I could
raise all Strelsau on you in an hour, and choke you with your lies--
yes, your mad lies--in your mouth."
"It's gospel truth," he said--"thanks to my advice you could."
"I could marry the princess, and send Michael and his brother
"I'm not denying it, lad," said he.
"Then, in God's name," I cried, stretching out my hands to him,
"let us go to Zenda and crush this Michael and bring the King back
to his own again."
The old fellow stood and looked at me for full a minute.
"And the princess?" he said.
I bowed my head to meet my hands, and crushed the rose
between my fingers and my lips.
I felt his hand on my shoulder, and his voice sounded husky
as he whispered low in my ear:
"Before God, you're the finest Elphberg of them all. But I
have eaten of the King's bread, and I am the King's servant.
Come, we will go to Zenda!"
And I looked up and caught him by the hand. And the eyes
of both of us were wet.
Hunting a Very Big Boar
The terrible temptation which was assailing me will now be understood.
I could so force Michael's hand that he must kill the King.
I was in a position to bid him defiance and tighten my grasp on the crown--
not for its own sake, but because the King of Ruritania was to wed
the Princess Flavia. What of Sapt and Fritz? Ah! but a man cannot
be held to write down in cold blood the wild and black thoughts
that storm his brain when an uncontrolled passion has battered a breach
for them. Yet, unless he sets up as a saint, he need not hate himself
for them. He is better employed, as it humbly seems to me, in giving
thanks that power to resist was vouchsafed to him, than in fretting
over wicked impulses which come unsought and extort an unwilling
hospitality from the weakness of our nature.
It was a fine bright morning when I walked, unattended,
to the princess's house, carrying a nosegay in my hand.
Policy made excuses for love, and every attention that I paid her,
while it riveted my own chains, bound closer to me the people
of the great city, who worshipped her. I found Fritz's inamorata,
the Countess Helga, gathering blooms in the garden for her
mistress's wear, and prevailed on her to take mine in their place.
The girl was rosy with happiness, for Fritz, in his turn, had not
wasted his evening, and no dark shadow hung over his wooing,
save the hatred which the Duke of Strelsau was known to bear him.
"And that," she said, with a mischievous smile, "your Majesty
has made of no moment. Yes, I will take the flowers; shall I tell you,
sire, what is the first thing the princess does with them?"
We were talking on a broad terrace that ran along the back
of the house, and a window above our heads stood open.
"Madame!" cried the countess merrily, and Flavia herself looked out.
I bared my head and bowed. She wore a white gown, and her hair was
loosely gathered in a knot. She kissed her hand to me, crying:
"Bring the King up, Helga; I'll give him some coffee."
The countess, with a gay glance, led the way, and took
me into Flavia's morning-room. And, left alone, we greeted
one another as lovers are wont. Then the princess laid two letters
before me. One was from Black Michael--a most courteous request
that she would honour him by spending a day at his Castle of Zenda,
as had been her custom once a year in the summer, when the place
and its gardens were in the height of their great beauty.
I threw the letter down in disgust, and Flavia laughed at me.
Then, growing grave again, she pointed to the other sheet.
"I don't know who that comes from," she said. "Read it."
I knew in a moment. There was no signature at all this time,
but the handwriting was the same as that which had told me
of the snare in the summer-house: it was Antoinette de Mauban's.
"I have no cause to love you," it ran, "but God forbid that you
should fall into the power of the duke. Accept no invitations
of his. Go nowhere without a large guard--a regiment is not too much
to make you safe. Show this, if you can, to him who reigns in Strelsau."
"Why doesn't it say "the King"?" asked Flavia, leaning over my shoulder,
so that the ripple of her hair played on my cheek. "Is it a hoax?"
"As you value life, and more than life, my queen," I said, "obey it
to the very letter. A regiment shall camp round your house today.
See that you do not go out unless well guarded."
"An order, sire?" she asked, a little rebellious.
"Yes, an order, madame--if you love me."
"Ah!" she cried; and I could not but kiss her.
"You know who sent it?" she asked.
"I guess," said I. "It is from a good friend--and I fear,
an unhappy woman. You must be ill, Flavia, and unable to go
to Zenda. Make your excuses as cold and formal as you like."
"So you feel strong enough to anger Michael?" she said,
with a proud smile.
"I'm strong enough for anything, while you are safe," said I.
Soon I tore myself away from her, and then, without consulting Sapt,
I took my way to the house of Marshal Strakencz. I had seen something
of the old general, and I liked and trusted him. Sapt was less enthusiastic,
but I had learnt by now that Sapt was best pleased when he could do everything,
and jealousy played some part in his views. As things were now, I had more
work than Sapt and Fritz could manage, for they must come with me to Zenda,
and I wanted a man to guard what I loved most in all the world, and suffer me
to set about my task of releasing the King with a quiet mind.
The Marshal received me with most loyal kindness. To some extent,
I took him into my confidence. I charged him with the care of the princess,
looking him full and significantly in the face as I bade him let no one
from her cousin the duke approach her, unless he himself were there
and a dozen of his men with him.
"You may be right, sire," said he, shaking his grey head sadly.
"I have known better men than the duke do worse things than that for love."
I could quite appreciate the remark, but I said:
"There's something beside love, Marshal. Love's for the heart;
is there nothing my brother might like for his head?"
"I pray that you wrong him, sire."
"Marshal, I'm leaving Strelsau for a few days. Every evening
I will send a courier to you. If for three days none comes, you will
publish an order which I will give you, depriving Duke Michael
of the governorship of Strelsau and appointing you in his place.
You will declare a state of siege. Then you will send word to
Michael that you demand an audience of the King--You follow me?"
"--In twenty-four hours. If he does not produce the King"
(I laid my hand on his knee), "then the King is dead,
and you will proclaim the next heir. You know who that is?"
"The Princess Flavia."
"And swear to me, on your faith and honour and by the fear
of the living God, that you will stand by her to the death,
and kill that reptile, and seat her where I sit now."
"On my faith and honour, and by the fear of God, I swear it!
And may Almighty God preserve your Majesty, for I think that
you go on an errand of danger."
"I hope that no life more precious than mine may be demanded,"
said I, rising. Then I held out my hand to him.
"Marshal," I said, "in days to come, it may be--I know not--
that you will hear strange things of the man who speaks to you now.
Let him be what he may, and who he may, what say you of the manner
in which he has borne himself as King in Strelsau?"
The old man, holding my hand, spoke to me, man to man.
"I have known many of the Elphbergs," said he, "and I have
seen you. And, happen what may, you have borne yourself
as a wise King and a brave man; ay, and you have proved
as courteous a gentleman and as gallant a lover as any that
have been of the House."
"Be that my epitaph," said I, "when the time comes that
another sits on the throne of Ruritania."
"God send a far day, and may I not see it!" said he.
I was much moved, and the Marshal's worn face twitched.
I sat down and wrote my order.
"I can hardly yet write," said I; "my finger is stiff still."
It was, in fact, the first time that I had ventured to write more
than a signature; and in spite of the pains I had taken to learn
the King's hand, I was not yet perfect in it.
"Indeed, sire," he said, "it differs a little from your ordinary
handwriting. It is unfortunate, for it may lead to a suspicion
"Marshal," said I, with a laugh, "what use are the guns of Strelsau,
if they can't assuage a little suspicion?"
He smiled grimly, and took the paper.
"Colonel Sapt and Fritz von Tarlenheim go with me," I continued.
"You go to seek the duke?" he asked in a low tone.
"Yes, the duke, and someone else of whom I have need,
and who is at Zenda," I replied.
"I wish I could go with you," he cried, tugging at his white
moustache. "I'd like to strike a blow for you and your crown."
"I leave you what is more than my life and more than my crown,"
said I, "because you are the man I trust more than all other in Ruritania."
"I will deliver her to you safe and sound," said he, "and,
failing that, I will make her queen."
We parted, and I returned to the Palace and told Sapt and
Fritz what I had done. Sapt had a few faults to find and a few
grumbles to utter. This was merely what I expected, for Sapt
liked to be consulted beforehand, not informed afterwards;
but on the whole he approved of my plans, and his spirits rose high
as the hour of action drew nearer and nearer. Fritz, too, was ready;
though he, poor fellow, risked more than Sapt did, for he was a lover,
and his happiness hung in the scale. Yet how I envied him! For the
triumphant issue which would crown him with happiness and unite him
to his mistress, the success for which we were bound to hope and strive
and struggle, meant to me sorrow more certain and greater than if I were
doomed to fail. He understood something of this, for when we were alone
(save for old Sapt, who was smoking at the other end of the room)
he passed his arm through mine, saying:
"It's hard for you. Don't think I don't trust you; I know you have
nothing but true thoughts in your heart."
But I turned away from him, thankful that he could not see
what my heart held, but only be witness to the deeds that
my hands were to do.
Yet even he did not understand, for he had not dared to lift
his eyes to the Princess Flavia, as I had lifted mine.
Our plans were now all made, even as we proceeded to carry
them out, and as they will hereafter appear. The next morning
we were to start on the hunting excursion. I had made all
arrangements for being absent, and now there was only one
thing left to do--the hardest, the most heart-breaking.
As evening fell, I drove through the busy streets to Flavia's
residence. I was recognized as I went and heartily cheered.
I played my part, and made shift to look the happy lover.
In spite of my depression, I was almost amused at the coolness
and delicate hauteur with which my sweet lover received me.
She had heard that the King was leaving Strelsau on a
"I regret that we cannot amuse your Majesty here in Strelsau,"
she said, tapping her foot lightly on the floor. "I would have
offered you more entertainment, but I was foolish enough to think--"
"Well, what?" I asked, leaning over her.
"That just for a day or two after--after last night--you might
be happy without much gaiety;" and she turned pettishly from me,
as she added, "I hope the boars will be more engrossing."
"I'm going after a very big boar," said I; and, because I could not
help it, I began to play with her hair, but she moved her head away.
"Are you offended with me?" I asked, in feigned surprise, for I
could not resist tormenting her a little. I had never seen her
angry, and every fresh aspect of her was a delight to me.
"What right have I to be offended? True, you said last night
that every hour away from me was wasted. But a very big boar!
that's a different thing."
"Perhaps the boar will hunt me," I suggested. "Perhaps, Flavia,
he'll catch me."
She made no answer.
"You are not touched even by that danger?"
Still she said nothing; and I, stealing round, found her eyes
full of tears.
"You weep for my danger?"
Then she spoke very low:
"This is like what you used to be; but not like the King--
the King I--I have come to love!"
With a sudden great groan, I caught her to my heart.
"My darling!" I cried, forgetting everything but her,
"did you dream that I left you to go hunting?"
"What then, Rudolf? Ah! you're not going--?"
"Well, it is hunting. I go to seek Michael in his lair."
She had turned very pale.
"So, you see, sweet, I was not so poor a lover as you thought me.
I shall not be long gone."
"You will write to me, Rudolf?"
I was weak, but I could not say a word to stir suspicion in her.
"I'll send you all my heart every day," said I.
"And you'll run no danger?"
"None that I need not."
"And when will you be back? Ah, how long will it be!"
"When shall I be back?" I repeated.
"Yes, yes! Don't be long, dear, don't be long. I shan't sleep
while you're away."
"I don't know when I shall be back," said I.
"Soon, Rudolf, soon?"
"God knows, my darling. But, if never--"
"Hush, hush!" and she pressed her lips to mine.
"If never," I whispered, "you must take my place; you'll be
the only one of the House then. You must reign, and not weep
For a moment she drew herself up like a very queen.
"Yes, I will!" she said. "I will reign. I will do my part though
all my life will be empty and my heart dead; yet I'll do it!"
She paused, and sinking against me again, wailed softly.
"Come soon! come soon!"
Carried away, I cried loudly:
"As God lives, I--yes, I myself--will see you once more
before I die!"
"What do you mean?" she exclaimed, with wondering eyes;
but I had no answer for her, and she gazed at me with her
I dared not ask her to forget, she would have found it an insult.
I could not tell her then who and what I was. She was weeping,
and I had but to dry her tears.
"Shall a man not come back to the loveliest lady in all the wide world?"
said I. "A thousand Michaels should not keep me from you!"
She clung to me, a little comforted.
"You won't let Michael hurt you?"
"Or keep you from me?"
"Nor anyone else?"
And again I answered:
Yet there was one--not Michael--who, if he lived, must keep
me from her; and for whose life I was going forth to stake my
own. And his figure--the lithe, buoyant figure I had met in the
woods of Zenda--the dull, inert mass I had left in the cellar of
the hunting-lodge--seemed to rise, double-shaped, before me,
and to come between us, thrusting itself in even where she lay,
pale, exhausted, fainting, in my arms, and yet looking up at me
with those eyes that bore such love as I have never seen, and
haunt me now, and will till the ground closes over me--
and (who knows?) perhaps beyond.
I Receive a Visitor and Bait a Hook
About five miles from Zenda--on the opposite side from that on
which the Castle is situated, there lies a large tract of wood.
It is rising ground, and in the centre of the demesne, on the top
of the hill, stands a fine modern chateau, the property of a
distant kinsman of Fritz's, the Count Stanislas von Tarlenheim.
Count Stanislas himself was a student and a recluse. He seldom
visited the house, and had, on Fritz's request, very readily and
courteously offered me its hospitality for myself and my party.
This, then, was our destination; chosen ostensibly for the sake
of the boar-hunting (for the wood was carefully preserved, and boars,
once common all over Ruritania, were still to be found there
in considerable numbers), really because it brought us within
striking distance of the Duke of Strelsau's more magnificent
dwelling on the other side of the town. A large party of servants,
with horses and luggage, started early in the morning;we followed at midday,
travelling by train for thirty miles, and then mounting our horses
to ride the remaining distance to the chateau.
We were a gallant party. Besides Sapt and Fritz, I was accompanied
by ten gentlemen: every one of them had been carefully chosen,
and no less carefully sounded, by my two friends, and all were
devotedly attached to the person of the King. They were told
a part of the truth; the attempt on my life in the summer-house
was revealed to them, as a spur to their loyalty and an incitement
against Michael. They were also informed that a friend of the King's
was suspected to be forcibly confined within the Castle of Zenda.
His rescue was one of the objects of the expedition; but, it was added,
the King's main desire was to carry into effect certain steps against
his treacherous brother, as to the precise nature of which they could
not at present be further enlightened. Enough that the King commanded
their services, and would rely on their devotion when occasion arose
to call for it. Young, well-bred, brave, and loyal, they asked no more:
they were ready to prove their dutiful obedience, and prayed for a fight
as the best and most exhilarating mode of showing it.
Thus the scene was shifted from Strelsau to the chateau
of Tarlenheim and Castle of Zenda, which frowned at us across
the valley. I tried to shift my thoughts also, to forget my love,
and to bend all my energies to the task before me. It was to get
the King out of the Castle alive. Force was useless: in some trick
lay the chance; and I had already an inkling of what we must do.
But I was terribly hampered by the publicity which attended my movements.
Michael must know by now of my expedition; and I knew Michael too well
to suppose that his eyes would be blinded by the feint of the boar-hunt.
He would understand very well what the real quarry was. That, however,
must be risked--that and all it might mean; for Sapt, no less than myself,
recognized that the present state of things had become unendurable.
And there was one thing that I dared to calculate on--not, as I now know,
without warrant. It was this--that Black Michael would not believe
that I meant well by the King. He could not appreciate--I will not say
an honest man, for the thoughts of my own heart have been revealed--
but a man acting honestly. He saw my opportunity as I had seen it,
as Sapt had seen it; he knew the princess--nay (and I declare
that a sneaking sort of pity for him invaded me), in his way
he loved her; he would think that Sapt and Fritz could be bribed,
so the bribe was large enough. Thinking thus, would he kill the King,
my rival and my danger? Ay, verily, that he would, with as little
compunction as he would kill a rat. But he would kill Rudolf Rassendyll first,
if he could; and nothing but the certainty of being utterly damned by the
release of the King alive and his restoration to the throne would drive
him to throw away the trump card which he held in reserve to baulk
the supposed game of the impudent impostor Rassendyll. Musing on
all this as I rode along, I took courage.
Michael knew of my coming, sure enough. I had not been in the house
an hour, when an imposing Embassy arrived from him. He did not quite
reach the impudence of sending my would-be assassins, but he sent
the other three of his famous Six--the three Ruritanian gentlemen--
Lauengram, Krafstein, and Rupert Hentzau. A fine, strapping trio
they were, splendidly horsed and admirably equipped. Young Rupert,
who looked a dare-devil, and could not have been more than twenty-two
or twenty-three, took the lead, and made us the neatest speech,
wherein my devoted subject and loving brother Michael of Strelsau,
prayed me to pardon him for not paying his addresses in person,
and, further, for not putting his Castle at my disposal;
the reason for both of these apparent derelictions being
that he and several of his servants lay sick of scarlet fever,
and were in a very sad, and also a very infectious state.
So declared young Rupert with an insolent smile on his curling
upper lip and a toss of his thick hair--he was a handsome villain,
and the gossip ran that many a lady had troubled her heart for him already.
"If my brother has scarlet fever," said I, "he is nearer my complexion
than he is wont to be, my lord. I trust he does not suffer?"
"He is able to attend to his affairs, sire."
"I hope all beneath your roof are not sick. What of my good friends,
De Gautet, Bersonin, and Detchard? I heard the last had suffered a hurt."
Lauengram and Krafstein looked glum and uneasy, but young Rupert's smile
"He hopes soon to find a medicine for it, sire," he answered.
And I burst out laughing, for I knew what medicine Detchard longed for--
it is called Revenge.
"You will dine with us, gentlemen?" I asked.
Young Rupert was profuse in apologies. They had urgent duties at the Castle.
"Then," said I, with a wave of my hand, "to our next meeting, gentlemen.
May it make us better acquainted."
"We will pray your Majesty for an early opportunity," quoth Rupert airily;
and he strode past Sapt with such jeering scorn on his face that I saw
the old fellow clench his fist and scowl black as night.
For my part, if a man must needs be a knave, I would have him
a debonair knave, and I liked Rupert Hentzau better than
his long-faced, close-eyed companions. It makes your sin
no worse, as I conceive, to do it a la mode and stylishly.
Now it was a curious thing that on this first night, instead
of eating the excellent dinner my cooks had prepared for me,
I must needs leave my gentlemen to eat it alone, under Sapt's
presiding care, and ride myself with Fritz to the town of Zenda
and a certain little inn that I knew of. There was little danger
in the excursion; the evenings were long and light, and the road
this side of Zenda well frequented. So off we rode, with a groom
behind us. I muffled myself up in a big cloak.
"Fritz," said I, as we entered the town, "there's an uncommonly
pretty girl at this inn."
"How do you know?" he asked.
"Because I've been there," said I.
"Since--?" he began.
"No. Before," said I.
"But they'll recognize you?"
"Well, of course they will. Now, don't argue, my good fellow,
but listen to me. We're two gentlemen of the King's household,
and one of us has a toothache. The other will order a private
room and dinner, and, further, a bottle of the best wine for
the sufferer. And if he be as clever a fellow as I take him for,
the pretty girl and no other will wait on us."
"What if she won't?" objected Fritz.
"My dear Fritz," said I, "if she won't for you, she will for me."
We were at the inn. Nothing of me but my eyes was visible
as I walked in. The landlady received us; two minutes later,
my little friend (ever, I fear me, on the look-out for such guests
as might prove amusing) made her appearance. Dinner and the
wine were ordered. I sat down in the private room. A minute
later Fritz came in.
"She's coming," he said.
"If she were not, I should have to doubt the Countess Helga's taste."
She came in. I gave her time to set the wine down--I didn't
want it dropped. Fritz poured out a glass and gave it to me.
"Is the gentleman in great pain?" the girl asked, sympathetically.
"The gentleman is no worse than when he saw you last," said I,
throwing away my cloak.
She started, with a little shriek. Then she cried:
"It was the King, then! I told mother so the moment I saw his picture.
Oh, sir, forgive me!"
"Faith, you gave me nothing that hurt much," said I.
"But the things we said!"
"I forgive them for the thing you did."
"I must go and tell mother."
"Stop," said I, assuming a graver air. "We are not here
for sport tonight. Go and bring dinner, and not a word
of the King being here."