The Prisoner of Zenda, by Anthony Hope
Part 1 out of 4
1 The Rassendylls--With a Word on the Elphbergs
2 Concerning the Colour of Men's Hair
3 A Merry Evening with a Distant Relative
4 The King Keeps his Appointment
5 The Adventures of an Understudy
6 The Secret of a Cellar
7 His Majesty Sleeps in Strelsau
8 A Fair Cousin and a Dark Brother
9 A New Use for a Tea-Table
10 A Great Chance for a Villain
11 Hunting a Very Big Boar
12 I Receive a Visitor and Bait a Hook
13 An Improvement on Jacob's Ladder
14 A Night Outside the Castle
15 I Talk with a Tempter
16 A Desperate Plan
17 Young Rupert's Midnight Diversions
18 The Forcing of the Trap
19 Face to Face in the Forest
20 The Prisoner and the King
21 If Love Were All!
22 Present, Past--and Future?
The Prisoner of Zenda
by Anthony Hope
The Rassendylls--With a Word on the Elphbergs
"I wonder when in the world you're going to do anything, Rudolf?"
said my brother's wife.
"My dear Rose," I answered, laying down my egg-spoon,
"why in the world should I do anything? My position is a
comfortable one. I have an income nearly sufficient for my
wants (no one's income is ever quite sufficient, you know),
I enjoy an enviable social position: I am brother to
Lord Burlesdon, and brother-in-law to that charming lady,
his countess. Behold, it is enough!"
"You are nine-and-twenty," she observed, "and you've done
"Knock about? It is true. Our family doesn't need to do things."
This remark of mine rather annoyed Rose, for everybody
knows (and therefore there can be no harm in referring to the
fact) that, pretty and accomplished as she herself is, her family
is hardly of the same standing as the Rassendylls. Besides her
attractions, she possessed a large fortune, and my brother
Robert was wise enough not to mind about her ancestry.
Ancestry is, in fact, a matter concerning which the next
observation of Rose's has some truth.
"Good families are generally worse than any others," she said.
Upon this I stroked my hair: I knew quite well what she meant.
"I'm so glad Robert's is black!" she cried.
At this moment Robert (who rises at seven and works before breakfast)
came in. He glanced at his wife: her cheek was slightly flushed;
he patted it caressingly.
"What's the matter, my dear?" he asked.
"She objects to my doing nothing and having red hair," said I,
in an injured tone.
"Oh! of course he can't help his hair," admitted Rose.
"It generally crops out once in a generation," said my brother.
"So does the nose. Rudolf has got them both."
"I wish they didn't crop out," said Rose, still flushed.
"I rather like them myself," said I, and, rising,
I bowed to the portrait of Countess Amelia.
My brother's wife uttered an exclamation of impatience.
"I wish you'd take that picture away, Robert," said she.
"My dear!" he cried.
"Good heavens!" I added.
"Then it might be forgotten," she continued.
"Hardly--with Rudolf about," said Robert, shaking his head.
"Why should it be forgotten?" I asked.
"Rudolf!" exclaimed my brother's wife, blushing very prettily.
I laughed, and went on with my egg. At least I had shelved
the question of what (if anything) I ought to do. And, by way of
closing the discussion--and also, I must admit, of exasperating
my strict little sister-in-law a trifle more--I observed:
"I rather like being an Elphberg myself."
When I read a story, I skip the explanations; yet the moment
I begin to write one, I find that I must have an explanation.
For it is manifest that I must explain why my sister-in-law was vexed
with my nose and hair, and why I ventured to call myself an Elphberg.
For eminent as, I must protest, the Rassendylls have been for many generations,
yet participation in their blood of course does not, at first sight,
justify the boast of a connection with the grander stock of the Elphbergs
or a claim to be one of that Royal House. For what relationship is there
between Ruritania and Burlesdon, between the Palace at Strelsau
or the Castle of Zenda and Number 305 Park Lane, W.?
Well then--and I must premise that I am going, perforce, to
rake up the very scandal which my dear Lady Burlesdon wishes
forgotten--in the year 1733, George II sitting then on the
throne, peace reigning for the moment, and the King and the
Prince of Wales being not yet at loggerheads, there came on a
visit to the English Court a certain prince, who was afterwards
known to history as Rudolf the Third of Ruritania. The prince
was a tall, handsome young fellow, marked (maybe marred, it
is not for me to say) by a somewhat unusually long, sharp and
straight nose, and a mass of dark-red hair--in fact, the nose and
the hair which have stamped the Elphbergs time out of mind.
He stayed some months in England, where he was most
courteously received; yet, in the end, he left rather under a
cloud. For he fought a duel (it was considered highly well bred
of him to waive all question of his rank) with a nobleman, well
known in the society of the day, not only for his own merits, but
as the husband of a very beautiful wife. In that duel Prince
Rudolf received a severe wound, and, recovering therefrom,
was adroitly smuggled off by the Ruritanian ambassador, who
had found him a pretty handful. The nobleman was not
wounded in the duel; but the morning being raw and damp on
the occasion of the meeting, he contracted a severe chill, and,
failing to throw it off, he died some six months after the
departure of Prince Rudolf, without having found leisure to
adjust his relations with his wife--who, after another two
months, bore an heir to the title and estates of the family of
Burlesdon. This lady was the Countess Amelia, whose picture
my sister-in-law wished to remove from the drawing-room in
Park Lane; and her husband was James, fifth Earl of Burlesdon
and twenty-second Baron Rassendyll, both in the peerage of
England, and a Knight of the Garter. As for Rudolf, he went
back to Ruritania, married a wife, and ascended the throne,
whereon his progeny in the direct line have sat from then till
this very hour--with one short interval. And, finally, if you
walk through the picture galleries at Burlesdon, among the fifty
portraits or so of the last century and a half, you will find five
or six, including that of the sixth earl, distinguished by long,
sharp, straight noses and a quantity of dark-red hair; these five
or six have also blue eyes, whereas among the Rassendylls dark
eyes are the commoner.
That is the explanation, and I am glad to have finished it:
the blemishes on honourable lineage are a delicate subject,
and certainly this heredity we hear so much about is the finest
scandalmonger in the world; it laughs at discretion, and writes
strange entries between the lines of the "Peerages".
It will be observed that my sister-in-law, with a want of
logic that must have been peculiar to herself (since we are
no longer allowed to lay it to the charge of her sex), treated my
complexion almost as an offence for which I was responsible,
hastening to assume from that external sign inward qualities of
which I protest my entire innocence; and this unjust inference
she sought to buttress by pointing to the uselessness of the life
I had led. Well, be that as it may, I had picked up a good deal
of pleasure and a good deal of knowledge. I had been to a German
school and a German university, and spoke German as readily
and perfectly as English; I was thoroughly at home in French;
I had a smattering of Italian and enough Spanish to swear by.
I was, I believe, a strong, though hardly fine swordsman and a good shot.
I could ride anything that had a back to sit on; and my head was as
cool a one as you could find, for all its flaming cover. If you say that
I ought to have spent my time in useful labour, I am out of Court
and have nothing to say, save that my parents had no business to leave me
two thousand pounds a year and a roving disposition.
"The difference between you and Robert," said my sister-in-law,
who often (bless her!) speaks on a platform, and oftener still as if
she were on one, "is that he recognizes the duties of his position,
and you see the opportunities of yours."
"To a man of spirit, my dear Rose," I answered, "opportunities are duties."
"Nonsense!" said she, tossing her head; and after a moment she went on:
"Now, here's Sir Jacob Borrodaile offering you exactly what you might
be equal to."
"A thousand thanks!" I murmured.
"He's to have an Embassy in six months, and Robert says he is
sure that he'll take you as an attache. Do take it, Rudolf--
to please me."
Now, when my sister-in-law puts the matter in that way,
wrinkling her pretty brows, twisting her little hands,
and growing wistful in the eyes, all on account of an idle scamp
like myself, for whom she has no natural responsibility, I am visited
with compunction. Moreover, I thought it possible that I could
pass the time in the position suggested with some tolerable amusement.
Therefore I said:
"My dear sister, if in six months' time no unforeseen obstacle has arisen,
and Sir Jacob invites me, hang me if I don't go with Sir Jacob!"
"Oh, Rudolf, how good of you! I am glad!"
"Where's he going to?"
"He doesn't know yet; but it's sure to be a good Embassy."
"Madame," said I, "for your sake I'll go, if it's no more than
a beggarly Legation. When I do a thing, I don't do it by halves."
My promise, then, was given; but six months are six months,
and seem an eternity, and, inasmuch as they stretched between
me and my prospective industry (I suppose attaches are industrious;
but I know not, for I never became attache to Sir Jacob or anybody else),
I cast about for some desirable mode of spending them.
And it occurred to me suddenly that I would visit Ruritania.
It may seem strange that I had never visited that country yet;
but my father (in spite of a sneaking fondness for the Elphbergs,
which led him to give me, his second son, the famous Elphberg
name of Rudolf) had always been averse from my going, and,
since his death, my brother, prompted by Rose, had accepted
the family tradition which taught that a wide berth was to be given
to that country. But the moment Ruritania had come into my head
I was eaten up with a curiosity to see it. After all, red hair
and long noses are not confined to the House of Elphberg,
and the old story seemed a preposterously insufficient reason
for debarring myself from acquaintance with a highly interesting
and important kingdom, one which had played no small part
in European history, and might do the like again under the sway
of a young and vigorous ruler, such as the new King was rumoured to be.
My determination was clinched by reading in The Times that Rudolf the Fifth
was to be crowned at Strelsau in the course of the next three weeks,
and that great magnificence was to mark the occasion. At once I made
up my mind to be present, and began my preparations. But, inasmuch
as it has never been my practice to furnish my relatives with an
itinerary of my journeys and in this case I anticipated opposition
to my wishes, I gave out that I was going for a ramble in the Tyrol--
an old haunt of mine--and propitiated Rose's wrath by declaring
that I intended to study the political and social problems of the
interesting community which dwells in that neighbourhood.
"Perhaps," I hinted darkly, "there may be an outcome of the expedition."
"What do you mean?" she asked.
"Well,"said I carelessly, "there seems a gap that might be filled
by an exhaustive work on--"
"Oh! will you write a book?" she cried, clapping her hands.
"That would be splendid, wouldn't it, Robert?"
"It's the best of introductions to political life nowadays,"
observed my brother, who has, by the way, introduced himself
in this manner several times over. Burlesdon on Ancient Theories
and Modern Facts and The Ultimate Outcome, by a Political Student,
are both works of recognized eminence.
"I believe you are right, Bob, my boy," said I.
"Now promise you'll do it," said Rose earnestly.
"No, I won't promise; but if I find enough material, I will."
"That's fair enough," said Robert.
"Oh, material doesn't matter!" she said, pouting.
But this time she could get no more than a qualified promise
out of me. To tell the truth, I would have wagered a handsome
sum that the story of my expedition that summer would stain
no paper and spoil not a single pen. And that shows how little
we know what the future holds; for here I am, fulfilling my
qualified promise, and writing, as I never thought to write,
a book--though it will hardly serve as an introduction to political life,
and has not a jot to do with the Tyrol.
Neither would it, I fear, please Lady Burlesdon, if I were to submit it
to her critical eye--a step which I have no intention of taking.
Concerning the Colour of Men's Hair
It was a maxim of my Uncle William's that no man should pass
through Paris without spending four-and-twenty hours there.
My uncle spoke out of a ripe experience of the world, and I
honoured his advice by putting up for a day and a night
at "The Continental" on my way to--the Tyrol. I called on
George Featherly at the Embassy, and we had a bit of dinner together
at Durand's, and afterwards dropped in to the Opera; and after
that we had a little supper, and after that we called on
Bertram Bertrand, a versifier of some repute and Paris correspondent
to The Critic. He had a very comfortable suite of rooms, and we
found some pleasant fellows smoking and talking. It struck me,
however, that Bertram himself was absent and in low spirits,
and when everybody except ourselves had gone, I rallied him
on his moping preoccupation. He fenced with me for a while,
but at last, flinging himself on a sofa, he exclaimed:
"Very well; have it your own way. I am in love--infernally in love!"
"Oh, you'll write the better poetry," said I, by way of consolation.
He ruffled his hair with his hand and smoked furiously.
George Featherly, standing with his back to the mantelpiece,
"If it's the old affair," said he, "you may as well throw it up, Bert.
She's leaving Paris tomorrow."
"I know that," snapped Bertram.
"Not that it would make any difference if she stayed," pursued the
relentless George. "She flies higher than the paper trade, my boy!"
"Hang her!" said Bertram.
"It would make it more interesting for me," I ventured to observe,
"if I knew who you were talking about."
"Antoinette Mauban," said George.
"De Mauban," growled Bertram.
"Oho!" said I, passing by the question of the `de'. "You don't
mean to say, Bert--?"
"Can't you let me alone?"
"Where's she going to?" I asked, for the lady was something
of a celebrity.
George jingled his money, smiled cruelly at poor Bertram,
and answered pleasantly:
"Nobody knows. By the way, Bert, I met a great man at her
house the other night--at least, about a month ago.
Did you ever meet him--the Duke of Strelsau?"
"Yes, I did," growled Bertram.
"An extremely accomplished man, I thought him."
It was not hard to see that George's references to the duke
were intended to aggravate poor Bertram's sufferings, so that
I drew the inference that the duke had distinguished Madame
de Mauban by his attentions. She was a widow, rich, handsome, and,
according to repute, ambitious. It was quite possible that she,
as George put it, was flying as high as a personage who was
everything he could be, short of enjoying strictly royal rank:
for the duke was the son of the late King of Ruritania
by a second and morganatic marriage, and half-brother
to the new King. He had been his father's favourite,
and it had occasioned some unfavourable comment when
he had been created a duke, with a title derived from
no less a city than the capital itself. His mother
had been of good, but not exalted, birth.
"He's not in Paris now, is he?" I asked.
"Oh no! He's gone back to be present at the King's coronation;
a ceremony which, I should say, he'll not enjoy much. But,
Bert, old man, don't despair! He won't marry the fair Antoinette--
at least, not unless another plan comes to nothing.
Still perhaps she--" He paused and added, with a laugh:
"Royal attentions are hard to resist--you know that,
don't you, Rudolf?"
"Confound you!" said I; and rising, I left the hapless Bertram
in George's hands and went home to bed.
The next day George Featherly went with me to the station,
where I took a ticket for Dresden.
"Going to see the pictures?" asked George, with a grin.
George is an inveterate gossip, and had I told him that I was
off to Ruritania, the news would have been in London in three
days and in Park Lane in a week. I was, therefore, about to
return an evasive answer, when he saved my conscience by
leaving me suddenly and darting across the platform. Following
him with my eyes, I saw him lift his hat and accost a
graceful, fashionably dressed woman who had just appeared
from the booking-office. She was, perhaps, a year or two over
thirty, tall, dark, and of rather full figure. As George talked,
saw her glance at me, and my vanity was hurt by the thought
that, muffled in a fur coat and a neck-wrapper (for it was a chilly
April day) and wearing a soft travelling hat pulled down to my
ears, I must be looking very far from my best. A moment later,
George rejoined me.
"You've got a charming travelling companion," he said.
"That's poor Bert Bertrand's goddess, Antoinette de Mauban,
and, like you, she's going to Dresden--also, no doubt, to see
the pictures. It's very queer, though, that she doesn't
at present desire the honour of your acquaintance."
"I didn't ask to be introduced," I observed, a little annoyed.
"Well, I offered to bring you to her; but she said, "Another time."
Never mind, old fellow, perhaps there'll be a smash, and you'll
have a chance of rescuing her and cutting out the Duke of Strelsau!"
No smash, however, happened, either to me or to Madame de Mauban.
I can speak for her as confidently as for myself; for when,
after a night's rest in Dresden, I continued my journey,
she got into the same train. Understanding that she wished
to be let alone, I avoided her carefully, but I saw that
she went the same way as I did to the very end of my journey,
and I took opportunities of having a good look at her,
when I could do so unobserved.
As soon as we reached the Ruritanian frontier (where the old
officer who presided over the Custom House favoured me with
such a stare that I felt surer than before of my Elphberg
physiognomy), I bought the papers, and found in them news
which affected my movements. For some reason, which was
not clearly explained, and seemed to be something of a mystery,
the date of the coronation had been suddenly advanced,
and the ceremony was to take place on the next day but one.
The whole country seemed in a stir about it, and it was evident
that Strelsau was thronged. Rooms were all let and hotels overflowing;
there would be very little chance of my obtaining a lodging,
and I should certainly have to pay an exorbitant charge for it.
I made up my mind to stop at Zenda, a small town fifty miles short
of the capital, and about ten from the frontier. My train reached
there in the evening; I would spend the next day, Tuesday,
in a wander over the hills, which were said to be very fine,
and in taking a glance at the famous Castle, and go over by train
to Strelsau on the Wednesday morning, returning at night to sleep at Zenda.
Accordingly at Zenda I got out, and as the train passed where
I stood on the platform, I saw my friend Madame de Mauban in
her place; clearly she was going through to Strelsau, having,
with more providence than I could boast, secured apartments there.
I smiled to think how surprised George Featherly would have been
to know that she and I had been fellow travellers for so long.
I was very kindly received at the hotel--it was really no more
than an inn--kept by a fat old lady and her two daughters.
They were good, quiet people, and seemed very little interested
in the great doings at Strelsau. The old lady's hero was the duke,
for he was now, under the late King's will, master of the Zenda
estates and of the Castle, which rose grandly on its steep hill
at the end of the valley a mile or so from the inn. The old lady,
indeed, did not hesitate to express regret that the duke was not
on the throne, instead of his brother.
"We know Duke Michael," said she. "He has always lived among us;
every Ruritanian knows Duke Michael. But the King is almost
a stranger; he has been so much abroad, not one in ten knows
him even by sight."
"And now," chimed in one of the young women, "they say he
has shaved off his beard, so that no one at all knows him."
"Shaved his beard!" exclaimed her mother. "Who says so?"
"Johann, the duke's keeper. He has seen the King."
"Ah, yes. The King, sir, is now at the duke's hunting-lodge
in the forest here; from here he goes to Strelsau to be crowned
on Wednesday morning."
I was interested to hear this, and made up my mind to walk next day
in the direction of the lodge, on the chance of coming across the King.
The old lady ran on garrulously:
"Ah, and I wish he would stay at his hunting--that and wine
(and one thing more) are all he loves, they say--and suffer our
duke to be crowned on Wednesday. That I wish, and I don't
care who knows it."
"Hush, mother!" urged the daughters.
"Oh, there's many to think as I do!" cried the old woman stubbornly.
I threw myself back in my deep armchair, and laughed at her zeal.
"For my part," said the younger and prettier of the two daughters,
a fair, buxom, smiling wench, "I hate Black Michael! A red Elphberg
for me, mother! The King, they say, is as red as a fox or as--"
And she laughed mischievously as she cast a glance at me,
and tossed her head at her sister's reproving face.
"Many a man has cursed their red hair before now," muttered
the old lady--and I remembered James, fifth Earl of Burlesdon.
"But never a woman!" cried the girl.
"Ay, and women, when it was too late," was the stern answer,
reducing the girl to silence and blushes.
"How comes the King here?" I asked, to break an embarrassed silence.
"It is the duke's land here, you say."
"The duke invited him, sir, to rest here till Wednesday.
The duke is at Strelsau, preparing the King's reception."
"Then they're friends?"
"None better," said the old lady.
But my rosy damsel tossed her head again; she was not to be
repressed for long, and she broke out again:
"Ay, they love one another as men do who want the same place
and the same wife!"
The old woman glowered; but the last words pricked my curiosity,
and I interposed before she could begin scolding:
"What, the same wife, too! How's that, young lady?"
"All the world knows that Black Michael--well then, mother,
the duke--would give his soul to marry his cousin,
the Princess Flavia, and that she is to be the queen."
"Upon my word," said I, "I begin to be sorry for your duke.
But if a man will be a younger son, why he must take what the
elder leaves, and be as thankful to God as he can;" and,
thinking of myself, I shrugged my shoulders and laughed.
And then I thought also of Antoinette de Mauban and her
journey to Strelsau.
"It's little dealing Black Michael has with--" began the girl,
braving her mother's anger; but as she spoke a heavy step
sounded on the floor, and a gruff voice asked in a threatening tone:
"Who talks of "Black Michael" in his Highness's own burgh?"
The girl gave a little shriek, half of fright--half, I think,
"You'll not tell of me, Johann?" she said.
"See where your chatter leads," said the old lady.
The man who had spoken came forward.
"We have company, Johann," said my hostess, and the fellow
plucked off his cap. A moment later he saw me, and,
to my amazement, he started back a step, as though he had
seen something wonderful.
"What ails you, Johann?" asked the elder girl. "This is
a gentleman on his travels, come to see the coronation."
The man had recovered himself, but he was staring at me
with an intense, searching, almost fierce glance.
"Good evening to you," said I.
"Good evening, sir," he muttered, still scrutinizing me,
and the merry girl began to laugh as she called--
"See, Johann, it is the colour you love! He started to see
your hair, sir. It's not the colour we see most of here in Zenda."
"I crave your pardon, sir," stammered the fellow,
with puzzled eyes. "I expected to see no one."
"Give him a glass to drink my health in; and I'll bid you good night,
and thanks to you, ladies, for your courtesy and pleasant conversation."
So speaking, I rose to my feet, and with a slight bow turned
to the door. The young girl ran to light me on the way,
and the man fell back to let me pass, his eyes still fixed on me.
The moment I was by, he started a step forward, asking:
"Pray, sir, do you know our King?"
"I never saw him," said I. "I hope to do so on Wednesday."
He said no more, but I felt his eyes following me till the
door closed behind me. My saucy conductor, looking over her
shoulder at me as she preceded me upstairs, said:
"There's no pleasing Master Johann for one of your colour, sir."
"He prefers yours, maybe?" I suggested.
"I meant, sir, in a man," she answered, with a coquettish glance.
"What," asked I, taking hold of the other side of the candlestick,
"does colour matter in a man?"
"Nay, but I love yours--it's the Elphberg red."
"Colour in a man," said I, "is a matter of no more moment than that!'
--and I gave her something of no value.
"God send the kitchen door be shut!" said she.
"Amen!" said I, and left her.
In fact, however, as I now know, colour is sometimes of
considerable moment to a man.
A Merry Evening with a Distant Relative
I was not so unreasonable as to be prejudiced against the duke's
keeper because he disliked my complexion; and if I had been,
his most civil and obliging conduct (as it seemed to me to be)
next morning would have disarmed me. Hearing that I was bound
for Strelsau, he came to see me while I was breakfasting,
and told me that a sister of his who had married a well-to-do
tradesman and lived in the capital, had invited him to occupy a
room in her house. He had gladly accepted, but now found that
his duties would not permit of his absence. He begged therefore
that, if such humble (though, as he added, clean and comfortable)
lodgings would satisfy me, I would take his place. He pledged
his sister's acquiescence, and urged the inconvenience and
crowding to which I should be subject in my journeys to
and from Strelsau the next day. I accepted his offer without
a moment's hesitation, and he went off to telegraph to his sister,
while I packed up and prepared to take the next train.
But I still hankered after the forest and the hunting-lodge,
and when my little maid told me that I could, by walking ten miles
or so through the forest, hit the railway at a roadside station,
I decided to send my luggage direct to the address which Johann had given,
take my walk, and follow to Strelsau myself. Johann had gone off
and was not aware of the change in my plans; but, as its only effect
was to delay my arrival at his sister's for a few hours, there was
no reason for troubling to inform him of it. Doubtless the good lady
would waste no anxiety on my account.
I took an early luncheon, and, having bidden my kind entertainers farewell,
promising to return to them on my way home, I set out to climb the hill
that led to the Castle, and thence to the forest of Zenda. Half an hour's
leisurely walking brought me to the Castle. It had been a fortress
in old days, and the ancient keep was still in good preservation
and very imposing. Behind it stood another portion of the original castle,
and behind that again, and separated from it by a deep and broad moat,
which ran all round the old buildings, was a handsome modern chateau,
erected by the last king, and now forming the country residence of
the Duke of Strelsau. The old and the new portions were connected
by a drawbridge, and this indirect mode of access formed the only passage
between the old building and the outer world; but leading to the modern
chateau there was a broad and handsome avenue. It was an ideal residence:
when "Black Michael" desired company, he could dwell in his chateau;
if a fit of misanthropy seized him, he had merely to cross the bridge
and draw it up after him (it ran on rollers), and nothing short
of a regiment and a train of artillery could fetch him out.
I went on my way, glad that poor Black Michael, though he
could not have the throne or the princess, had, at least,
as fine a residence as any prince in Europe.
Soon I entered the forest, and walked on for an hour or more
in its cool sombre shade. The great trees enlaced
with one another over my head, and the sunshine stole through
in patches as bright as diamonds, and hardly bigger.
I was enchanted with the place, and, finding a felled tree-trunk,
propped my back against it, and stretching my legs out gave myself up
to undisturbed contemplation of the solemn beauty of the woods
and to the comfort of a good cigar. And when the cigar was finished
and I had (I suppose) inhaled as much beauty as I could, I went off
into the most delightful sleep, regardless of my train to Strelsau
and of the fast-waning afternoon. To remember a train in such a
spot would have been rank sacrilege. Instead of that, I fell
to dreaming that I was married to the Princess Flavia and dwelt
in the Castle of Zenda, and beguiled whole days with my love
in the glades of the forest--which made a very pleasant dream.
In fact, I was just impressing a fervent kiss on the charming lips
of the princess, when I heard (and the voice seemed at first a part
of the dream) someone exclaim, in rough strident tones.
"Why, the devil's in it! Shave him, and he'd be the King!"
The idea seemed whimsical enough for a dream: by the sacrifice
of my heavy moustache and carefully pointed imperial, I was to be
transformed into a monarch! I was about to kiss the princess again,
when I arrived (very reluctantly) at the conclusion that I was awake.
I opened my eyes, and found two men regarding me with much curiosity.
Both wore shooting costumes and carried guns. One was rather short
and very stoutly built, with a big bullet-shaped head,
a bristly grey moustache, and small pale-blue eyes,
a trifle bloodshot. The other was a slender young fellow,
of middle height, dark in complexion, and bearing himself
with grace and distinction. I set the one down as an old soldier:
the other for a gentleman accustomed to move in good society,
but not unused to military life either. It turned out afterwards
that my guess was a good one.
The elder man approached me, beckoning the younger to follow.
He did so, courteously raising his hat. I rose slowly to my feet.
"He's the height, too!" I heard the elder murmur, as he surveyed
my six feet two inches of stature. Then, with a cavalier touch
of the cap, he addressed me:
"May I ask your name?"
"As you have taken the first step in the acquaintance, gentlemen,"
said I, with a smile, "suppose you give me a lead in the matter of names."
The young man stepped forward with a pleasant smile.
"This," said he, "is Colonel Sapt, and I am called Fritz von Tarlenheim:
we are both in the service of the King of Ruritania."
I bowed and, baring my head, answered:
"I am Rudolf Rassendyll. I am a traveller from England; and once
for a year or two I held a commission from her Majesty the Queen."
"Then we are all brethren of the sword," answered Tarlenheim,
holding out his hand, which I took readily.
"Rassendyll, Rassendyll!" muttered Colonel Sapt;
then a gleam of intelligence flitted across his face.
"By Heaven!" he cried, "you're of the Burlesdons?"
"My brother is now Lord Burlesdon," said I.
"Thy head betrayeth thee," he chuckled, pointing to my
uncovered poll. "Why, Fritz, you know the story?"
The young man glanced apologetically at me. He felt a
delicacy which my sister-in-law would have admired.
To put him at his ease, I remarked with a smile:
"Ah! the story is known here as well as among us, it seems."
"Known!" cried Sapt. "If you stay here, the deuce a man
in all Ruritania will doubt of it--or a woman either."
I began to feel uncomfortable. Had I realized what a very plainly
written pedigree I carried about with me, I should have thought
long before I visited Ruritania. However, I was in for it now.
At this moment a ringing voice sounded from the wood behind us:
"Fritz, Fritz! where are you, man?"
Tarlenheim started, and said hastily:
"It's the King!"
Old Sapt chuckled again.
Then a young man jumped out from behind the trunk of a tree
and stood beside us. As I looked at him, I uttered an astonished cry;
and he, seeing me, drew back in sudden wonder. Saving the hair on my face
and a manner of conscious dignity which his position gave him,
saving also that he lacked perhaps half an inch--nay, less than that,
but still something--of my height, the King of Ruritania might have been
Rudolf Rassendyll, and I, Rudolf, the King.
For an instant we stood motionless, looking at one another.
Then I bared my head again and bowed respectfully. The King
found his voice, and asked in bewilderment:
"Colonel--Fritz--who is this gentleman?"
I was about to answer, when Colonel Sapt stepped between
the King and me, and began to talk to his Majesty in a low growl.
The King towered over Sapt, and, as he listened, his eyes now and again
sought mine. I looked at him long and carefully. The likeness was
certainly astonishing, though I saw the points of difference also.
The King's face was slightly more fleshy than mine, the oval
of its contour the least trifle more pronounced, and, as I fancied,
his mouth lacking something of the firmness (or obstinacy)
which was to be gathered from my close-shutting lips. But,
for all that, and above all minor distinctions,
the likeness rose striking, salient, wonderful.
Sapt ceased speaking, and the King still frowned. Then, gradually,
the corners of his mouth began to twitch, his nose came down
(as mine does when I laugh), his eyes twinkled, and, behold!
he burst into the merriest fit of irrepressible laughter,
which rang through the woods and proclaimed him a jovial soul.
"Well met, cousin!" he cried, stepping up to me, clapping me
on the back, and laughing still. "You must forgive me if I was
taken aback. A man doesn't expect to see double at this time
of day, eh, Fritz?"
"I must pray pardon, sire, for my presumption," said I.
"I trust it will not forfeit your Majesty's favour."
"By Heaven! you'll always enjoy the King's countenance,"
he laughed, "whether I like it or not; and, sir, I shall very gladly
add to it what services I can. Where are you travelling to?"
"To Strelsau, sire--to the coronation."
The King looked at his friends: he still smiled, though his
expression hinted some uneasiness. But the humorous side of
the matter caught him again.
"Fritz, Fritz!" he cried, "a thousand crowns for a sight
of brother Michael's face when he sees a pair of us!"
and the merry laugh rang out again.
"Seriously," observed Fritz von Tarlenheim, "I question Mr.
Rassendyll's wisdom in visiting Strelsau just now."
The King lit a cigarette.
"Well, Sapt?" said he, questioningly.
"He mustn't go," growled the old fellow.
"Come, colonel, you mean that I should be in Mr. Rassendyll's debt, if--"
"Oh, ay! wrap it up in the right way," said Sapt, hauling a great pipe
out of his pocket.
"Enough, sire," said I. "I'll leave Ruritania today."
"No, by thunder, you shan't--and that's sans phrase, as Sapt likes it.
For you shall dine with me tonight, happen what will afterwards.
Come, man, you don't meet a new relation every day!"
"We dine sparingly tonight," said Fritz von Tarlenheim.
"Not we--with our new cousin for a guest!" cried the King;
and, as Fritz shrugged his shoulders, he added: "Oh!
I'll remember our early start, Fritz."
"So will I--tomorrow morning," said old Sapt, pulling at his pipe.
"O wise old Sapt!" cried the King. "Come, Mr. Rassendyll--by the way,
what name did they give you?"
"Your Majesty's," I answered, bowing.
"Well, that shows they weren't ashamed of us," he laughed.
"Come, then, cousin Rudolf; I've got no house of my own here,
but my dear brother Michael lends us a place of his, and we'll
make shift to entertain you there;" and he put his arm through
mine and, signing to the others to accompany us, walked me off,
westerly, through the forest.
We walked for more than half an hour, and the King smoked
cigarettes and chattered incessantly. He was full of interest
in my family, laughed heartily when I told him of the portraits
with Elphberg hair in our galleries, and yet more heartily when
he heard that my expedition to Ruritania was a secret one.
"You have to visit your disreputable cousin on the sly, have you?"
Suddenly emerging from the wood, we came on a small and rude hunting-lodge.
It was a one-storey building, a sort of bungalow, built entirely of wood.
As we approached it, a little man in a plain livery came out to meet us.
The only other person I saw about the place was a fat elderly woman,
whom I afterwards discovered to be the mother of Johann, the duke's keeper.
"Well, is dinner ready, Josef?" asked the King.
The little servant informed us that it was, and we soon
sat down to a plentiful meal. The fare was plain enough:
the King ate heartily, Fritz von Tarlenheim delicately,
old Sapt voraciously. I played a good knife and fork,
as my custom is; the King noticed my performance with approval.
"We're all good trenchermen, we Elphbergs," said he. "But what?
--we're eating dry! Wine, Josef! wine, man! Are we beasts,
to eat without drinking? Are we cattle, Josef?"
At this reproof Josef hastened to load the table with bottles.
"Remember tomorrow!" said Fritz.
"Ay--tomorrow!" said old Sapt.
The King drained a bumper to his "Cousin Rudolf," as he was
gracious--or merry--enough to call me; and I drank its fellow
to the "Elphberg Red," whereat he laughed loudly.
Now, be the meat what it might, the wine we drank
was beyond all price or praise, and we did it justice.
Fritz ventured once to stay the King's hand.
"What?" cried the King. "Remember you start before I do,
Master Fritz--you must be more sparing by two hours than I."
Fritz saw that I did not understand.
"The colonel and I," he explained, "leave here at six: we ride
down to Zenda and return with the guard of honour to fetch the
King at eight, and then we all ride together to the station."
"Hang that same guard!" growled Sapt.
"Oh! it's very civil of my brother to ask the honour for his regiment,"
said the King. "Come, cousin, you need not start early.
Another bottle, man!"
I had another bottle--or, rather, a part of one, for the larger half
travelled quickly down his Majesty's throat. Fritz gave up his
attempts at persuasion: from persuading, he fell to being persuaded,
and soon we were all of us as full of wine as we had any right to be.
The King began talking of what he would do in the future, old Sapt
of what he had done in the past, Fritz of some beautiful girl or other,
and I of the wonderful merits of the Elphberg dynasty. We all talked
at once, and followed to the letter Sapt's exhortation to let the morrow
take care of itself.
At last the King set down his glass and leant back in his chair.
"I have drunk enough," said he.
"Far be it from me to contradict the King," said I.
Indeed, his remark was most absolutely true--so far as it went.
While I yet spoke, Josef came and set before the King a marvellous
old wicker-covered flagon. It had lain so long in some darkened cellar
that it seemed to blink in the candlelight.
"His Highness the Duke of Strelsau bade me set this wine
before the King, when the King was weary of all other wines,
and pray the King to drink, for the love that he bears his brother."
"Well done, Black Michael!" said the King. "Out with the cork,
Josef. Hang him! Did he think I'd flinch from his bottle?"
The bottle was opened, and Josef filled the King's glass.
The King tasted it. Then, with a solemnity born of the hour
and his own condition, he looked round on us:
"Gentlemen, my friends--Rudolf, my cousin ('tis a scandalous story,
Rudolf, on my honour!), everything is yours to the half of Ruritania.
But ask me not for a single drop of this divine bottle, which I will
drink to the health of that--that sly knave, my brother, Black Michael."
And the King seized the bottle and turned it over his mouth,
and drained it and flung it from him, and laid his head on his
arms on the table.
And we drank pleasant dreams to his Majesty--and that is all
I remember of the evening. Perhaps it is enough.
The King Keeps His Appointment
Whether I had slept a minute or a year I knew not. I awoke with
a start and a shiver; my face, hair and clothes dripped water,
and opposite me stood old Sapt, a sneering smile on his face
and an empty bucket in his hand. On the table by him sat Fritz
von Tarlenheim, pale as a ghost and black as a crow under the eyes.
I leapt to my feet in anger.
"Your joke goes too far, sir!" I cried.
"Tut, man, we've no time for quarrelling. Nothing else would
rouse you. It's five o'clock."
"I'll thank you, Colonel Sapt--" I began again, hot in spirit,
though I was uncommonly cold in body.
"Rassendyll," interrupted Fritz, getting down from the table
and taking my arm, "look here."
The King lay full length on the floor. His face was red as his hair,
and he breathed heavily. Sapt, the disrespectful old dog,
kicked him sharply. He did not stir, nor was there any break
in his breathing. I saw that his face and head were wet with water,
as were mine.
"We've spent half an hour on him," said Fritz.
"He drank three times what either of you did," growled Sapt.
I knelt down and felt his pulse. It was alarmingly languid
and slow. We three looked at one another.
"Was it drugged--that last bottle?" I asked in a whisper.
"I don't know," said Sapt.
"We must get a doctor."
"There's none within ten miles, and a thousand doctors
wouldn't take him to Strelsau today. I know the look of it.
He'll not move for six or seven hours yet."
"But the coronation!" I cried in horror.
Fritz shrugged his shoulders, as I began to see was his habit
on most occasions.
"We must send word that he's ill," he said.
"I suppose so," said I.
Old Sapt, who seemed as fresh as a daisy, had lit his pipe
and was puffing hard at it.
"If he's not crowned today," said he, "I'll lay a crown he's
"But heavens, why?"
"The whole nation's there to meet him; half the army--ay, and
Black Michael at the head. Shall we send word that the King's drunk?"
"That he's ill," said I, in correction.
"Ill!" echoed Sapt, with a scornful laugh. "They know his
illnesses too well. He's been "ill" before!"
"Well, we must chance what they think," said Fritz helplessly.
"I'll carry the news and make the best of it."
Sapt raised his hand.
"Tell me," said he. "Do you think the King was drugged?"
"I do," said I.
"And who drugged him?"
"That damned hound, Black Michael," said Fritz between his teeth.
"Ay," said Sapt, "that he might not come to be crowned.
Rassendyll here doesn't know our pretty Michael. What think you,
Fritz, has Michael no king ready? Has half Strelsau no other candidate?
As God's alive, man the throne's lost if the King show himself not
in Strelsau today. I know Black Michael."
"We could carry him there," said I.
"And a very pretty picture he makes," sneered Sapt.
Fritz von Tarlenheim buried his face in his hands. The King breathed
loudly and heavily. Sapt stirred him again with his foot.
"The drunken dog!" he said; "but he's an Elphberg and the son
of his father, and may I rot in hell before Black Michael sits
in his place!"
For a moment or two we were all silent; then Sapt, knitting his
bushy grey brows, took his pipe from his mouth and said to me:
"As a man grows old he believes in Fate. Fate sent you here.
Fate sends you now to Strelsau."
I staggered back, murmuring "Good God!"
Fritz looked up with an eager, bewildered gaze.
"Impossible!" I muttered. "I should be known."
"It's a risk--against a certainty," said Sapt. "If you
shave, I'll wager you'll not be known. Are you afraid?"
"Come, lad, there, there; but it's your life, you know,
if you're known--and mine--and Fritz's here. But, if you don't go,
I swear to you Black Michael will sit tonight on the throne,
and the King lie in prison or his grave."
"The King would never forgive it," I stammered.
"Are we women? Who cares for his forgiveness?"
The clock ticked fifty times, and sixty and seventy times,
as I stood in thought. Then I suppose a look came over my face,
for old Sapt caught me by the hand, crying:
"Yes, I'll go," said I, and I turned my eyes on the prostrate figure
of the King on the floor.
"Tonight," Sapt went on in a hasty whisper, "we are to lodge
in the Palace. The moment they leave us you and I will mount
our horses--Fritz must stay there and guard the King's room--
and ride here at a gallop. The King will be ready--Josef will
tell him--and he must ride back with me to Strelsau,
and you ride as if the devil were behind you to the frontier."
I took it all in in a second, and nodded my head.
"There's a chance," said Fritz, with his first sign of hopefulness.
"If I escape detection," said I.
"If we're detected," said Sapt. "I'll send Black Michael down below
before I go myself, so help me heaven! Sit in that chair, man."
I obeyed him.
He darted from the room, calling "Josef! Josef!" In three
minutes he was back, and Josef with him. The latter carried a
jug of hot water, soap and razors. He was trembling as Sapt
told him how the land lay, and bade him shave me.
Suddenly Fritz smote on his thigh:
"But the guard! They'll know! they'll know!"
"Pooh! We shan't wait for the guard. We'll ride to Hofbau
and catch a train there. When they come, the bird'll be flown."
"But the King?"
"The King will be in the wine-cellar. I'm going to carry him
"If they find him?"
"They won't. How should they? Josef will put them off."
Sapt stamped his foot.
"We're not playing," he roared. "My God! don't I know the risk?
If they do find him, he's no worse off than if he isn't crowned today
So speaking, he flung the door open and, stooping, put forth
a strength I did not dream he had, and lifted the King in his hands.
And as he did so, the old woman, Johann the keeper's mother,
stood in the doorway. For a moment she stood, then she turned on her heel,
without a sign of surprise, and clattered down the passage.
"Has she heard?" cried Fritz.
"I'll shut her mouth!" said Sapt grimly, and he bore off
the King in his arms.
For me, I sat down in an armchair, and as I sat there, half-dazed,
Josef clipped and scraped me till my moustache and imperial
were things of the past and my face was as bare as the King's.
And when Fritz saw me thus he drew a long breath and exclaimed:--
"By Jove, we shall do it!"
It was six o'clock now, and we had no time to lose.
Sapt hurried me into the King's room, and I dressed myself
in the uniform of a colonel of the Guard, finding time
as I slipped on the King's boots to ask Sapt what he had done
with the old woman.
"She swore she'd heard nothing," said he; "but to make sure
I tied her legs together and put a handkerchief in her mouth
and bound her hands, and locked her up in the coal-cellar, next door
to the King. Josef will look after them both later on."
Then I burst out laughing, and even old Sapt grimly smiled.
"I fancy," said he, "that when Josef tells them the King is gone
they'll think it is because we smelt a rat. For you may swear
Black Michael doesn't expect to see him in Strelsau today."
I put the King's helmet on my head. Old Sapt handed me
the King's sword, looking at me long and carefully.
"Thank God, he shaved his beard!" he exclaimed.
"Why did he?" I asked.
"Because Princess Flavia said he grazed her cheek when
he was graciously pleased to give her a cousinly kiss.
Come though, we must ride."
"Is all safe here?"
"Nothing's safe anywhere," said Sapt, "but we can make it no safer."
Fritz now rejoined us in the uniform of a captain in the same
regiment as that to which my dress belonged. In four minutes
Sapt had arrayed himself in his uniform. Josef called that
the horses were ready. We jumped on their backs and started
at a rapid trot. The game had begun. What would the issue
of it be?
The cool morning air cleared my head, and I was able to take
in all Sapt said to me. He was wonderful. Fritz hardly spoke,
riding like a man asleep, but Sapt, without another word for
the King, began at once to instruct me most minutely in the history
of my past life, of my family, of my tastes, pursuits, weaknesses,
friends, companions, and servants. He told me the etiquette
of the Ruritanian Court, promising to be constantly at my elbow
to point out everybody whom I ought to know, and give me hints
with what degree of favour to greet them.
"By the way," he said, "you're a Catholic, I suppose?"
"Not I," I answered.
"Lord, he's a heretic!" groaned Sapt, and forthwith he fell
to a rudimentary lesson in the practices and observances
of the Romish faith.
"Luckily," said he, "you won't be expected to know much,
for the King's notoriously lax and careless about such matters.
But you must be as civil as butter to the Cardinal. We hope
to win him over, because he and Michael have a standing
quarrel about their precedence."
We were by now at the station. Fritz had recovered nerve
enough to explain to the astonished station master that the King
had changed his plans. The train steamed up. We got into a
first-class carriage, and Sapt, leaning back on the cushions,
went on with his lesson. I looked at my watch--the King's
watch it was, of course. It was just eight.
"I wonder if they've gone to look for us," I said.
"I hope they won't find the King," said Fritz nervously,
and this time it was Sapt who shrugged his shoulders.
The train travelled well, and at half-past nine, looking out
of the window, I saw the towers and spires of a great city.
"Your capital, my liege," grinned old Sapt, with a wave of his hand,
and, leaning forward, he laid his finger on my pulse. "A little
too quick," said he, in his grumbling tone.
"I'm not made of stone!" I exclaimed.
"You'll do," said he, with a nod. "We must say Fritz here has
caught the ague. Drain your flask, Fritz, for heaven's sake, boy!"
Fritz did as he was bid.
"We're an hour early," said Sapt. "We'll send word forward for
your Majesty's arrival, for there'll be no one here to meet us yet.
"Meanwhile," said I, "the King'll be hanged if he doesn't
have some breakfast."
Old Sapt chuckled, and held out his hand.
"You're an Elphberg, every inch of you," said he. Then he paused,
and looking at us, said quietly, "God send we may be alive tonight!"
"Amen!" said Fritz von Tarlenheim.
The train stopped. Fritz and Sapt leapt out, uncovered,
and held the door for me. I choked down a lump that rose
in my throat, settled my helmet firmly on my head, and
(I'm not ashamed to say it) breathed a short prayer to God.
Then I stepped on the platform of the station at Strelsau.
A moment later, all was bustle and confusion: men hurrying up,
hats in hand, and hurrying off again; men conducting me to the buffet;
men mounting and riding in hot haste to the quarters of the troops,
to the Cathedral, to the residence of Duke Michael. Even as I swallowed
the last drop of my cup of coffee, the bells throughout all the city broke out
into a joyful peal, and the sound of a military band and of men cheering
smote upon my ear.
King Rudolf the Fifth was in his good city of Strelsau!
And they shouted outside--
"God save the King!"
Old Sapt's mouth wrinkled into a smile.
"God save 'em both!" he whispered. "Courage, lad!" and I felt
his hand press my knee.
The Adventures of an Understudy
With Fritz von Tarlenheim and Colonel Sapt close behind me,
I stepped out of the buffet on to the platform. The last thing
I did was to feel if my revolver were handy and my sword loose
in the scabbard. A gay group of officers and high dignitaries
stood awaiting me, at their head a tall old man, covered with medals,
and of military bearing. He wore the yellow and red ribbon of the
Red Rose of Ruritania--which, by the way, decorated my unworthy
"Marshal Strakencz," whispered Sapt, and I knew that I was
in the presence of the most famous veteran of the Ruritanian army.
Just behind the Marshal stood a short spare man,
in flowing robes of black and crimson.
"The Chancellor of the Kingdom," whispered Sapt.
The Marshal greeted me in a few loyal words, and proceeded
to deliver an apology from the Duke of Strelsau. The duke,
it seemed, had been afflicted with a sudden indisposition which
made it impossible for him to come to the station, but he craved
leave to await his Majesty at the Cathedral. I expressed my
concern, accepted the Marshal's excuses very suavely, and
received the compliments of a large number of distinguished
personages. No one betrayed the least suspicion, and I felt
my nerve returning and the agitated beating of my heart subsiding.
But Fritz was still pale, and his hand shook like a leaf as he
extended it to the Marshal.
Presently we formed procession and took our way to the door
of the station. Here I mounted my horse, the Marshal holding
my stirrup. The civil dignitaries went off to their carriages, and
I started to ride through the streets with the Marshal on my right
and Sapt (who, as my chief aide-de-camp, was entitled to the place)
on my left. The city of Strelsau is partly old and partly new.
Spacious modern boulevards and residential quarters surround
and embrace the narrow, tortuous, and picturesque streets
of the original town. In the outer circles the upper classes live;
in the inner the shops are situated; and, behind their prosperous fronts,
lie hidden populous but wretched lanes and alleys, filled with
a poverty-stricken, turbulent, and (in large measure) criminal class.
These social and local divisions corresponded, as I knew from
Sapt's information, to another division more important to me.
The New Town was for the King; but to the Old Town Michael
of Strelsau was a hope, a hero, and a darling.
The scene was very brilliant as we passed along the Grand Boulevard
and on to the great square where the Royal Palace stood.
Here I was in the midst of my devoted adherents. Every house
was hung with red and bedecked with flags and mottoes.
The streets were lined with raised seats on each side,
and I passed along, bowing this way and that,
under a shower of cheers, blessings, and waving handkerchiefs.
The balconies were full of gaily dressed ladies,
who clapped their hands and curtsied and threw their brightest glances at me.
A torrent of red roses fell on me; one bloom lodged in my horse's mane,
and I took it and stuck it in my coat. The Marshal smiled grimly.
I had stolen some glances at his face, but he was too impassive
to show me whether his sympathies were with me or not.
"The red rose for the Elphbergs, Marshal," said I gaily, and he nodded.
I have written "gaily," and a strange word it must seem. But the truth is,
that I was drunk with excitement. At that moment I believed--I almost
believed--that I was in very truth the King; and, with a look of laughing
triumph, I raised my eyes to the beauty-laden balconies again. . .and then
I started. For, looking down on me, with her handsome face and proud smile,
was the lady who had been my fellow traveller--Antoinette de Mauban;
and I saw her also start, and her lips moved, and she leant forward
and gazed at me. And I, collecting myself, met her eyes full and square,
while again I felt my revolver. Suppose she had cried aloud,
"That's not the King!"
Well, we went by; and then the Marshal, turning round in his saddle,
waved his hand, and the Cuirassiers closed round us, so that the crowd
could not come near me. We were leaving my quarter and entering
Duke Michael's, and this action of the Marshal's showed me more clearly
than words what the state of feeling in the town must be. But if Fate
made me a King, the least I could do was to play the part handsomely.
"Why this change in our order, Marshal?" said I.
The Marshal bit his white moustache.
"It is more prudent, sire," he murmured.
I drew rein.
"Let those in front ride on," said I, "till they are fifty yards ahead.
But do you, Marshal, and Colonel Sapt and my friends, wait here till
I have ridden fifty yards. And see that no one is nearer to me.
I will have my people see that their King trusts them."
Sapt laid his hand on my arm. I shook him off. The Marshal hesitated.
"Am I not understood?" said I; and, biting his moustache again,
he gave the orders. I saw old Sapt smiling into his beard,
but he shook his head at me. If I had been killed in open day
in the streets of Strelsau, Sapt's position would have been a difficult one.
Perhaps I ought to say that I was dressed all in white, except my boots.
I wore a silver helmet with gilt ornaments, and the broad ribbon of the Rose
looked well across my chest. I should be paying a poor compliment to the King
if I did not set modesty aside and admit that I made a very fine figure.
So the people thought; for when I, riding alone, entered the dingy,
sparsely decorated, sombre streets of the Old Town, there was first
a murmur, then a cheer, and a woman, from a window above a cookshop,
cried the old local saying:
"If he's red, he's right!" whereat I laughed and took off my helmet
that she might see that I was of the right colour and they cheered
me again at that.
It was more interesting riding thus alone, for I heard
the comments of the crowd.
"He looks paler than his wont," said one.
"You'd look pale if you lived as he does," was the
highly disrespectful retort.
"He's a bigger man than I thought," said another.
"So he had a good jaw under that beard after all," commented a third.
"The pictures of him aren't handsome enough," declared a pretty girl,
taking great care that I should hear. No doubt it was mere flattery.
But, in spite of these signs of approval and interest,
the mass of the people received me in silence and with sullen looks,
and my dear brother's portrait ornamented most of the windows--
which was an ironical sort of greeting to the King. I was quite glad
that he had been spared the unpleasant sight. He was a man of quick temper,
and perhaps he would not have taken it so placidly as I did.
At last we were at the Cathedral. Its great grey front,
embellished with hundreds of statues and boasting a pair of the
finest oak doors in Europe, rose for the first time before me,
and the sudden sense of my audacity almost overcame me.
Everything was in a mist as I dismounted. I saw the Marshal
and Sapt dimly, and dimly the throng of gorgeously robed priests
who awaited me. And my eyes were still dim as I walked up
the great nave, with the pealing of the organ in my ears.
I saw nothing of the brilliant throng that filled it,
I hardly distinguished the stately figure of the Cardinal
as he rose from the archiepiscopal throne to greet me.
Two faces only stood out side by side clearly before my eyes--
the face of a girl, pale and lovely, surmounted by a crown
of the glorious Elphberg hair (for in a woman it is glorious),
and the face of a man, whose full-blooded red cheeks, black hair,
and dark deep eyes told me that at last I was in presence of my brother,
Black Michael. And when he saw me his red cheeks went pale all in a moment,
and his helmet fell with a clatter on the floor. Till that moment I believe
that he had not realized that the King was in very truth come to Strelsau.
Of what followed next I remember nothing. I knelt before the
altar and the Cardinal anointed my head. Then I rose to my feet,
and stretched out my hand and took from him the crown of Ruritania
and set it on my head, and I swore the old oath of the King;
and (if it were a sin, may it be forgiven me) I received
the Holy Sacrament there before them all. Then the great organ
pealed out again, the Marshal bade the heralds proclaim me,
and Rudolf the Fifth was crowned King; of which imposing ceremony
an excellent picture hangs now in my dining-room.
The portrait of the King is very good.
Then the lady with the pale face and the glorious hair,
her train held by two pages, stepped from her place
and came to where I stood. And a herald cried:
"Her Royal Highness the Princess Flavia!"
She curtsied low, and put her hand under mine and raised my hand
and kissed it. And for an instant I thought what I had best do.
Then I drew her to me and kissed her twice on the cheek,
and she blushed red, and--then his Eminence the Cardinal Archbishop
slipped in front of Black Michael, and kissed my hand and presented me
with a letter from the Pope--the first and last which I have received
from that exalted quarter!
And then came the Duke of Strelsau. His step trembled, I swear,
and he looked to the right and to the left, as a man looks who thinks
on flight; and his face was patched with red and white, and his hand
shook so that it jumped under mine, and I felt his lips dry and parched.
And I glanced at Sapt, who was smiling again into his beard, and,
resolutely doing my duty in that station of life to which
I had been marvellously called, I took my dear Michael
by both hands and kissed him on the cheek. I think we
were both glad when that was over!
But neither in the face of the princess nor in that of any other
did I see the least doubt or questioning. Yet, had I and the King
stood side by side, she could have told us in an instant, or, at least,
on a little consideration. But neither she nor anyone else dreamed
or imagined that I could be other than the King. So the likeness served,
and for an hour I stood there, feeling as weary and blase as though
I had been a king all my life; and everybody kissed my hand,
and the ambassadors paid me their respects, among them old Lord Topham,
at whose house in Grosvenor Square I had danced a score of times.
Thank heaven, the old man was as blind as a bat, and did not claim
Then back we went through the streets to the Palace, and I heard them
cheering Black Michael; but he, Fritz told me, sat biting his nails
like a man in a reverie, and even his own friends said that he
should have made a braver show. I was in a carriage now,
side by side with the Princess Flavia, and a rough fellow cried out:
"And when's the wedding?" and as he spoke another struck
him in the face, crying "Long live Duke Michael!" and the
princess coloured--it was an admirable tint--and looked
straight in front of her.
Now I felt in a difficulty, because I had forgotten to ask Sapt
the state of my affections, or how far matters had gone between
the princess and myself. Frankly, had I been the King,
the further they had gone the better should I have been pleased.
For I am not a slow-blooded man, and I had not kissed Princess
Flavia's cheek for nothing. These thoughts passed through my head,
but, not being sure of my ground, I said nothing; and in a moment
or two the princess, recovering her equanimity, turned to me.
"Do you know, Rudolf," said she, "you look somehow different today?"
The fact was not surprising, but the remark was disquieting.
"You look," she went on, "more sober, more sedate; you're almost careworn,
and I declare you're thinner. Surely it's not possible that you've begun
to take anything seriously?"
The princess seemed to hold of the King much the same opinion that
Lady Burlesdon held of me.
I braced myself up to the conversation.
"Would that please you?" I asked softly,
"Oh, you know my views," said she, turning her eyes away.
"Whatever pleases you I try to do," I said; and, as I saw her
smile and blush, I thought that I was playing the King's hand
very well for him. So I continued and what I said was perfectly true:
"I assure you, my dear cousin, that nothing in my life has affected
me more than the reception I've been greeted with today."
She smiled brightly, but in an instant grew grave again, and whispered:
"Did you notice Michael?"
"Yes," said I, adding, "he wasn't enjoying himself."
"Do be careful!" she went on. "You don't--indeed you don't--
keep enough watch on him. You know--"
"I know," said I, "that he wants what I've got."
Then--and I can't justify it, for I committed the King far beyond what
I had a right to do--I suppose she carried me off my feet--I went on:
"And perhaps also something which I haven't got yet,
but hope to win some day."
This was my answer. Had I been the King, I should have
thought it encouraging:
"Haven't you enough responsibilities on you for one day, cousin?"
Bang, bang! Blare, blare! We were at the Palace. Guns were
firing and trumpets blowing. Rows of lackeys stood waiting,
and, handing the princess up the broad marble staircase,
I took formal possession, as a crowned King, of the House
of my ancestors, and sat down at my own table, with my cousin
on my right hand, on her other side Black Michael, and on my left
his Eminence the Cardinal. Behind my chair stood Sapt; and at the
end of the table, I saw Fritz von Tarlenheim drain to the bottom
his glass of champagne rather sooner than he decently should.
I wondered what the King of Ruritania was doing.
The Secret of a Cellar
We were in the King's dressing-room--Fritz von Tarlenheim,
Sapt, and I. I flung myself exhausted into an armchair.
Sapt lit his pipe. He uttered no congratulations on the marvellous
success of our wild risk, but his whole bearing was eloquent
of satisfaction. The triumph, aided perhaps by good wine,
had made a new man of Fritz.
"What a day for you to remember!" he cried. "Gad, I'd like to
be King for twelve hours myself! But, Rassendyll, you mustn't
throw your heart too much into the part. I don't wonder Black
Michael looked blacker than ever--you and the princess had so
much to say to one another."
"How beautiful she is!" I exclaimed.
"Never mind the woman," growled Sapt. "Are you ready to start?"
"Yes," said I, with a sigh.
It was five o'clock, and at twelve I should be no more than
Rudolf Rassendyll. I remarked on it in a joking tone.
"You'll be lucky," observed Sapt grimly, "if you're not the
late Rudolf Rassendyll. By Heaven! I feel my head wobbling
on my shoulders every minute you're in the city. Do you know,
friend, that Michael has had news from Zenda? He went into
a room alone to read it--and he came out looking like a man dazed."
"I'm ready," said I, this news making me none the more eager to linger.
Sapt sat down.
"I must write us an order to leave the city. Michael's Governor,
you know, and we must be prepared for hindrances. You must sign the order."
"My dear colonel, I've not been bred a forger!"
Out of his pocket Sapt produced a piece of paper.
"There's the King's signature," he said, "and here," he went on,
after another search in his pocket, "is some tracing paper.
If you can't manage a "Rudolf" in ten minutes, why--I can."
"Your education has been more comprehensive than mine,"
said I. "You write it."
And a very tolerable forgery did this versatile hero produce.
"Now, Fritz," said he, "the King goes to bed. He is upset.
No one is to see him till nine o'clock tomorrow. You understand--
"I understand," answered Fritz.
"Michael may come, and claim immediate audience.
You'll answer that only princes of the blood are entitled to it."
"That'll annoy Michael," laughed Fritz.
"You quite understand?" asked Sapt again. "If the door of this
room is opened while we're away, you're not to be alive to tell
us about it."
"I need no schooling, colonel," said Fritz, a trifle haughtily.
"Here, wrap yourself in this big cloak," Sapt continued to me,
"and put on this flat cap. My orderly rides with me to the
"There's an obstacle," I observed. "The horse doesn't live
that can carry me forty miles."
"Oh, yes, he does--two of him: one here--one at the lodge.
Now, are you ready?"
"I'm ready," said I.
Fritz held out his hand.
"In case," said he; and we shook hands heartily.
"Damn your sentiment!" growled Sapt. "Come along."
He went, not to the door, but to a panel in the wall.
"In the old King's time," said he, "I knew this way well."
I followed him, and we walked, as I should estimate, near
two hundred yards along a narrow passage. Then we came to
a stout oak door. Sapt unlocked it. We passed through,
and found ourselves in a quiet street that ran along the back
of the Palace gardens. A man was waiting for us with two horses.
One was a magnificent bay, up to any weight; the other a sturdy brown.
Sapt signed to me to mount the bay. Without a word to the man,
we mounted and rode away. The town was full of noise and merriment,
but we took secluded ways. My cloak was wrapped over half my face;
the capacious flat cap hid every lock of my tell-tale hair.
By Sapt's directions, I crouched on my saddle, and rode with
such a round back as I hope never to exhibit on a horse again.
Down a long narrow lane we went, meeting some wanderers and some roisterers;
and, as we rode, we heard the Cathedral bells still clanging out their welcome
to the King. It was half-past six, and still light. At last we came to the
city wall and to a gate.
"Have your weapon ready," whispered Sapt. "We must stop his mouth,
if he talks."
I put my hand on my revolver. Sapt hailed the doorkeeper.
The stars fought for us! A little girl of fourteen tripped out.
"Please, sir, father's gone to see the King."
"He'd better have stayed here," said Sapt to me, grinning.
"But he said I wasn't to open the gate, sir."
"Did he, my dear?" said Sapt, dismounting. "Then give me the key."
The key was in the child's hand. Sapt gave her a crown.
"Here's an order from the King. Show it to your father.
Orderly, open the gate!"
I leapt down. Between us we rolled back the great gate,
led our horses out, and closed it again.
"I shall be sorry for the doorkeeper if Michael finds out that
he wasn't there. Now then, lad, for a canter. We mustn't go too
fast while we're near the town."
Once, however, outside the city, we ran little danger,
for everybody else was inside, merry-making; and as the evening
fell we quickened our pace, my splendid horse bounding along
under me as though I had been a feather. It was a fine night, and
presently the moon appeared. We talked little on the way, and
chiefly about the progress we were making.
"I wonder what the duke's despatches told him," said I, once.
"Ay, I wonder!" responded Sapt.
We stopped for a draught of wine and to bait our horses,
losing half an hour thus. I dared not go into the inn,
and stayed with the horses in the stable. Then we went ahead again,
and had covered some five-and-twenty miles, when Sapt abruptly stopped.
"Hark!" he cried.
I listened. Away, far behind us, in the still of the evening--
it was just half-past nine--we heard the beat of horses' hoofs.
The wind blowing strong behind us, carried the sound.
I glanced at Sapt.
"Come on!" he cried, and spurred his horse into a gallop.
When we next paused to listen, the hoof-beats were not audible,
and we relaxed our pace. Then we heard them again.
Sapt jumped down and laid his ear to the ground.
"There are two," he said. "They're only a mile behind.
Thank God the road curves in and out, and the wind's our way."
We galloped on. We seemed to be holding our own. We had
entered the outskirts of the forest of Zenda, and the trees,
closing in behind us as the track zigged and zagged, prevented
us seeing our pursuers, and them from seeing us.
Another half-hour brought us to a divide of the road.
Sapt drew rein.
"To the right is our road," he said. "To the left, to the Castle.
Each about eight miles. Get down."
"But they'll be on us!" I cried.
"Get down!" he repeated brusquely; and I obeyed. The wood
was dense up to the very edge of the road. We led our horses
into the covert, bound handkerchiefs over their eyes, and stood
"You want to see who they are?" I whispered.
"Ay, and where they're going," he answered.
I saw that his revolver was in his hand.
Nearer and nearer came the hoofs. The moon shone out
now clear and full, so that the road was white with it.
The ground was hard, and we had left no traces.
"Here they come!" whispered Sapt.
"It's the duke!"
"I thought so," he answered.
It was the duke; and with him a burly fellow whom I knew well,
and who had cause to know me afterwards--Max Holf, brother to
Johann the keeper, and body-servant to his Highness.
They were up to us: the duke reined up. I saw Sapt's finger
curl lovingly towards the trigger. I believe he would have given
ten years of his life for a shot; and he could have picked off
Black Michael as easily as I could a barn-door fowl in a farmyard.
I laid my hand on his arm. He nodded reassuringly:
he was always ready to sacrifice inclination to duty.
"Which way?" asked Black Michael.
"To the Castle, your Highness," urged his companion.
"There we shall learn the truth."
For an instant the duke hesitated.
"I thought I heard hoofs," said he.
"I think not, your Highness."
"Why shouldn't we go to the lodge?"
"I fear a trap. If all is well, why go to the lodge?
If not, it's a snare to trap us."
Suddenly the duke's horse neighed. In an instant we folded
our cloaks close round our horses' heads, and, holding them
thus, covered the duke and his attendant with our revolvers.
If they had found us, they had been dead men, or our prisoners.
Michael waited a moment longer. Then he cried:
"To Zenda, then!" and setting spurs to his horse, galloped on.
Sapt raised his weapon after him, and there was such an expression of
wistful regret on his face that I had much ado not to burst out laughing.
For ten minutes we stayed where we were.
"You see," said Sapt, "they've sent him news that all is well."
"What does that mean?" I asked.
"God knows," said Sapt, frowning heavily. "But it's brought him
from Strelsau in a rare puzzle."
Then we mounted, and rode as fast as our weary horses could
lay their feet to the ground. For those last eight miles we spoke
no more. Our minds were full of apprehension. "All is well."
What did it mean? Was all well with the King?
At last the lodge came in sight. Spurring our horses to a last
gallop, we rode up to the gate. All was still and quiet. Not a
soul came to meet us. We dismounted in haste. Suddenly Sapt
caught me by the arm.
"Look there!" he said, pointing to the ground.
I looked down. At my feet lay five or six silk handkerchiefs,
torn and slashed and rent. I turned to him questioningly.
"They're what I tied the old woman up with," said he.
"Fasten the horses, and come along."
The handle of the door turned without resistance. We passed
into the room which had been the scene of last night's bout.
It was still strewn with the remnants of our meal and with
"Come on," cried Sapt, whose marvellous composure had at last
almost given way.
We rushed down the passage towards the cellars. The door of
the coal-cellar stood wide open.
"They found the old woman," said I.
"You might have known that from the handkerchiefs," he said.
Then we came opposite the door of the wine-cellar. It was shut.
It looked in all respects as it had looked when we left it that morning."
"Come, it's all right," said I.
A loud oath from Sapt rang out. His face turned pale, and he
pointed again at the floor. From under the door a red stain had
spread over the floor of the passage and dried there. Sapt sank
against the opposite wall. I tried the door. It was locked.
"Where's Josef?" muttered Sapt.
"Where's the King?" I responded.
Sapt took out a flask and put it to his lips. I ran back to
the dining-room, and seized a heavy poker from the fireplace.
In my terror and excitement I rained blows on the lock of the door,
and I fired a cartridge into it. It gave way, and the door swung
"Give me a light," said I; but Sapt still leant against the wall.
He was, of course, more moved than I, for he loved his master.
Afraid for himself he was not--no man ever saw him that;
but to think what might lie in that dark cellar was enough
to turn any man's face pale. I went myself, and took a silver
candlestick from the dining-table and struck a light, and,
as I returned, I felt the hot wax drip on my naked hand
as the candle swayed to and fro; so that I cannot afford
to despise Colonel Sapt for his agitation.
I came to the door of the cellar. The red stain turning more
and more to a dull brown, stretched inside. I walked two yards
into the cellar, and held the candle high above my head. I saw
the full bins of wine; I saw spiders crawling on the walls;
I saw, too, a couple of empty bottles lying on the floor; and then,
away in the corner, I saw the body of a man, lying flat on his back,
with his arms stretched wide, and a crimson gash across his throat.
I walked to him and knelt down beside him, and commended to
God the soul of a faithful man. For it was the body of Josef,
the little servant, slain in guarding the King.
I felt a hand on my shoulders, and, turning, saw Sapt,
eyes glaring and terror-struck, beside me.
"The King? My God! the King?" he whispered hoarsely.
I threw the candle's gleam over every inch of the cellar.
"The King is not here," said I.
His Majesty Sleeps in Strelsau
I put my arm round Sapt's waist and supported him out of the
cellar, drawing the battered door close after me. For ten minutes
or more we sat silent in the dining-room. Then old Sapt rubbed
his knuckles into his eyes, gave one great gasp, and was himself again.
As the clock on the mantelpiece struck one he stamped his foot on the floor,
"They've got the King!"
"Yes," said I, ""all's well!" as Black Michael's despatch said.
What a moment it must have been for him when the royal salutes
fired at Strelsau this morning! I wonder when he got the message?"
"It must have been sent in the morning," said Sapt. "They must
have sent it before news of your arrival at Strelsau reached Zenda--
I suppose it came from Zenda."
"And he's carried it about all day!" I exclaimed. "Upon my honour,
I'm not the only man who's had a trying day! What did he think, Sapt?"
"What does that matter? What does he think, lad, now?"
I rose to my feet.
"We must get back," I said, "and rouse every soldier in Strelsau.
We ought to be in pursuit of Michael before midday."
Old Sapt pulled out his pipe and carefully lit it from the candle
which guttered on the table.
"The King may be murdered while we sit here!" I urged.
Sapt smoked on for a moment in silence.
"That cursed old woman!" he broke out. "She must have attracted
their attention somehow. I see the game. They came up to kidnap
the King, and--as I say--somehow they found him. If you hadn't gone
to Strelsau, you and I and Fritz had been in heaven by now!"
"And the King?"
"Who knows where the King is now?" he asked.
"Come, let's be off!" said I; but he sat still. And suddenly
he burst into one of his grating chuckles:
"By Jove, we've shaken up Black Michael!"
"Come, come!" I repeated impatiently.
"And we'll shake him up a bit more," he added, a cunning
smile broadening on his wrinkled, weather-beaten face, and his
teeth working on an end of his grizzled moustache. "Ay, lad,
we'll go back to Strelsau. The King shall be in his capital
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