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Full text of "The prisoner of Zenda; being the history of three months in the life of an English gentleman"

Masterpiece of 

Ruritanian 

Romance 

Anthony Hope was the pen-name of Sir 
Anthony Hope Hawkins. His famous 
'Ruritanian romance' (he coined the 
name of ' Ruritania ' for the setting of this 
cloak-and-sword story) was published as 
long ago as 1894. It has been an inspira- 
tion to drama producers and leading 
actors and actresses right down to our 
own day. Countless hundreds of readers 
have read the book again and again. 

The lasting quaHties of Hope's master- 
piece are not difficult to assess. Above all 
it has romantic situations and characters 
that live within a very real world of their 
own — for within Anthony Hope's king- 
dom where the Elphbergs reign is all the 
reflection of the royal tragedy, the echo 
of the hapless Hapsburgs, the recession 
of the royal ideal that modern history has 
recorded over the years since the famous 
romance was written. At heart most 
people who enjoy this book are ardent 
royalists, and the adventure that Rudolph 
Rassendyll had in helping to let the royal 
right triumph over the evil might of Black 
Michael is an adventure that most of us 
have been engaged on in a great or 
lesser degree — Rudolph is therefore 
everybody's hero and Black Michael 
everybody's villain, whether he reflects 
[con turned on back flap 



< 




BOSTON 
PUBLIC 
LIBRARY 




»^* 



THE PRISONER OF ZENDA 



By the same Author 

RUPERT OF HENTZAU 




See page i6o 
I . . . Sword in hand, vaulted over the parapet 



THE PRISONER 
OF ZENDA 

Being the history of three months in 

the life of an English 

Gentleman 

ANTHONY HOPE 



LONDON: j. M. DENT AND SONS LTD 
NEW YORK: E. P. DUTTON & CO. INC. 

OPEN SHELF. 



All rights reserved 

Made in Great Britain 

at the 

Aldine Press • Letchworth • Herts 

for 

J. M. DENT & SONS LTD 

Aldine House • Bedford Street • London 

First published 1894 
Last reprinted (112th impression) i960 






0^0 



C3 oiiy-^^ — 
RfcOx 




CONTENTS 

chapter i 
The Rassendylls — With a Word on the Elphbergs 



chapter ii 
Concerning the Colour of Men's Hair 

chapter iii 
A Merry Evening with a Distant Relative 

chapter iv 
The King Keeps His Appointment 



chapter v 
The Adventures of an Understudy 



chapter vi 
The Secret of a Cellar 

chapter vii 
His Majesty Sleeps in Strelsau . 

chapter viii 
A Fair Cousin and a Dark Brother 

CHAPTER IX 

A New Use for a Tea Table 

CHAPTER X 

A Great Chance for a Villain . 

chapter xi 
Hunting a Very Big Boar . 

chapter xii 
I Receive a Visitor and Bait a Hook 

chapter xiii 
An Improvement on Jacob's Ladder 



C O N T E N TS 



CHAPTER XIV 

A Night Outside the Castle 



CHAPTER XV 



I Talk with a Tempter 



CHAPTER XVI 



A Desperate Plan 



chapter xvii 
Young Rupert's Midnight Diversions 

chapter xvi 1 1 
The Forcing of the Trap . 

chapter xix 
Face to Face in the Forest 

chapter xx 
The Prisoner and the King 



CHAPTER XXI 



If Love Were All! 



chapter xxii 
Present, Past — and Future? 



Page 
ii8 



126 
134 
143 
150 
157 
165 
^72 
182 



"Anthony Hope" was the pseudonym of Sir Anthony Hope Hawkins 
(1863-1933). 



THE PRISONER OF ZENDA 



CHAPTER I 

THE R.\SSENDYLLS— 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 most charming lady, his countess. 
Behold, it is enough!" 

"You are nine-and-twenty," she observ^ed, "and 
you've done nothing but " 

"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 w^as wise enough not to mind about 
her ancestr}'. Ancestry is, in fact, a matter concern- 
ing 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. 



8 THE PRISONER OF ZENDA 

*'rm 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." 



THE PRISONER OF ZENDA 9 

When I read a stor}% 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 after- 
wards known to history as Rudolf the Third of 
Ruritania. The prince was a tall, handsome young 
fellow, marked (may be 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 



10 THE PRISONER OF ZENDA 

received a severe wound, and, recovering therefrom, 
was adroitly smuggled off by the Ruritanian am- 
bassador, 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 depart- 
ture 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 



THE PRISONER OF ZENDA II 

(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 know- 
ledge. 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 a 
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 diflference 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 recognises the duties of his position, and you 
only 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 attacJie, Do 
take it, Rudolf — to please me." 



12 THE PRISONER OF ZENDA 

Now, when my sister-in-law puts the matter in 
that way, wrinkUng her pretty brows, twisting her 
Uttle 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 com- 
punction. 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 unfore- 
seen 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 



THE PRISONER OF ZENDA I3 

curiosity to see it. After all, red hair and long noses 
are not confined to the House of Elphl^erg, and the 
old stor}^ seemed a preposterously insufficient reason 
for debarring myself from acquaintance with an 
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 Tvnes 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 propitated 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 out- 
come 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 recognised eminence. 



14 THE PRISONER OF ZENDA 

"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. 



CHAPTER II 

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 ex- 
perience 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 com- 
fortable suite of rooms, and we found some pleasant 



THE PRISONER OF ZENDA I5 

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 ex- 
claimed : 

"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 mantel- 
piece, smiled unkindly. 

"If it's the old affair," said he, "yoti may as well throw 
it, up, Bert. She's leaving Paris to-morrow." 

"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. 



l6 THE PRISONER OF ZENDA 

"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 suffer- 
ings, so that I drew the inference that the duke had dis- 
tinguished 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 



THE PRISONER OF ZEN DA I7 

darting across the platform. Following him with my 
eyes, I saw him lift his hat and accost a graceful, fashion- 
ably-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, I 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 oppor- 
tunities of having a good look at her, when I could do 
so unobserv^ed. 

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 



l8 THE PRISONER OF ZENDA 

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 Wednes- 
day 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. 



THE PRISONER OF ZENDA I9 

"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 Wednes- 
day. 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. 



20 THE PRISONER OF ZENDA 

"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 Wed- 
nesday. 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 thank- 
ful 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 deaUng Black Michael has with " 



THE PRISONER OF ZENDA 21 

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, of amusement. 

"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 scrutinising 

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 shght 
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 : 



22 THE PRISONER OF ZENDA 

"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, may be ?" I suggested. 

"I meant, sir, in a man," she answered, v/ith 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 some- 
times of considerable moment to a man. 



CHAPTER III 

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 



THE PRISONER OF ZENDA 23 

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 preserv^ation 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 chdteaUy 
erected by the last king, and now forming the country 



24 THE PRISONER OF ZENDA 

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 Slrclsau and of the fast-waning after- 
noon. 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 im- 
pressing a fervent kiss on the charming lips of the 
princess, when I heard (and the voice seemed at first 



THE PRISONER OF ZENDA 25 

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 gentle- 
man accustomed to move in good society, but not 
unused to military life either. It turned out after- 
wards 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 acquain- 
tance, 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 



Zb THE PRISONER OF ZENDA 

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 com- 
mission 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 bewrayeth 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 realised 
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 I where are you, man?" 

Tarlenheim started, and said hastily: 

"It's the King!" 

Old Sapt chuckled again. 



THE PRISONER OF ZENDA 27 

Then a young man jumped out from behind the 
trunk of a tree and stood beside us. As I looked on 
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. 



28 THE PRISONER OF ZENDA 

"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 coun- 
tenance," 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. "Fll leave Ruritania to-day." 

"Now, by thunder, you shan't — and that's sans 
phrase, as Sapt likes it. For you shall dine with me 
to-night, happen what will afterwards. Come man, 
you don't meet a new relation every day ! " 

"We dine sparingly to-night." said Fritz von 
Tarlenheim. 



THE PRISONER OF ZEN DA 29 

"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 — to-morrow morning," said old Sapt, 
pulling at his pipe. 

"Q 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 enter- 
tain 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 ?" said he. 

Suddenly emerging from the wood, we came on a 
small and rude hunting-lodge. It was a one - story 
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 



30 THE PRISONER OF ZENDA 

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 to-morrow!" said Fritz. 

"Ay — to-morrow!" 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, 



THE PRISONER OF ZENDA 3I 

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 comdition, he looked 
round on us: 

"Gentlemen, my friends — Rudolf, my cousin ('tis 
a scandalous stor}% Rudolf, on my honour!), every- 
thing 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, nry 
brother, Black Michael." 

And the King seized the bottle and turned it over 
B 6.1^- 16 m 



32 THE PRISONER OF ZENDA 

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. 



CHAPTER IV 

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 Tarlen- 
heim, 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. 



THE PRISONER OF ZENDA 23 

"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 to-day. 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 to-day," said he, "I'll lay a 
crown he's never crowned." 

"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. 

"111!" 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 



34 THE PRISONER OF ZENDA 

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 to-day. 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 ?" 

"Sir!" 

"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 
to-night 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: 



THE PRISONER OF ZENDA 35 

"You'll go?" 

"Yes, I'll go," said I, and I turned my eyes on the 
prostrate figure of the King on the floor. 

"To-night," 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 bs in the wine-cellar. I'm going to 
carry him there now." 

"If they find him ?" 

"They won't. How should they ? Josef will put 
them oflr." 

"But " 



3b THE PRISONER OF ZENDA 

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 to-day in Strelsau." 

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 door- 
way. 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 arm-chair, 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 shpped 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 handker- 
chief 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. 



THE PRISONER OF ZENDA 37 

For you may swear Black Michael doesn't expect to 
see him in Strelsau to-day." 

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. W^hat 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 



3^ THE PRISONER OF ZENDA 

he fell to a rudimentary lesson in the practices and 
observ^ances 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 ner- 
vously, and this time it was Sapt who shrugged his 
shoulders. 

The train travelled well, and at half-past nine, look- 
ing 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 of your Majesty's arrival, for there'll be no 
one here to meet us yet. And meanwhile " 

"Meanwhile," said I, "the King '11 be hanged if he 
doesn't have some breakfast." 



THE PRISONER OF ZENDA 39 

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 to-night!" 

"Amen!" said Fritz von Tarlenheim. 

The train stopped. Fritz and Sapt leapt out, un- 
covered, 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 plat- 
form 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. 



CHAPTER V 

THE ADVENTURES OF AN UNDERSTUDY 

With Fritz von Tarlenheim and Colonel Sapt close 
behind me, I stepped out of the buffet on to the plat- 
form. The last thing I did was to feel if my revolver 
were handy and my sword loose in the scabbard. A 



40 THE PRISONER OF ZENDA 

gay group of officers and high dignitaries stood waiting 
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 breast also. 

"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 PRISONER OF ZENDA 41 

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 excite- 
ment. 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 



42 THE PRISONER OF ZENDA 

— Antoinette de Mauban ; and I saw her also start, and 
her Hps 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 Cuiras- 
siers 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 hand- 
somely. 

"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 
smihng 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 com- 
pliment to the King if I did not set modesty aside and 



THE PRISONER OF ZENDA 43 

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 m,u ir.ur, 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 
oflF 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 orna- 
mented 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 pei haps 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 boast- 
ing 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 



44 THE PRISONER OF ZENDA 

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 realised 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 



THE PRISONER OF ZENDA 45 

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 ever 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 hiase as though I had been a king all my life ; and 
ever\^body 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 my acquaintance. 

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 : 



4& THE PRISONER OF ZEN DA 

"And when's the wedding?" and as he spoke another 
struck him in the face, crying "Long Hve 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 some- 
how different to-day?" 

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 any- 
thing 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 to-day." 



THE PRISONER OF ZENDA 47 

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." 

"Yes. Hush!" 

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. 



48 THE PRISONER OF ZENDA 

CHAPTER VI 

THE SECRET OF A CELLAR 

We were in the King's dressing-room — Fritz von 
Tarlenheim, Sapt, and L I flung myself exhausted 
into an arm-chair. 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 a 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 fivt 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 



THE PRISONER OF ZENDA 49 

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 to-morrow. 
You understand — no one?" 

"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 con- 
tinued to me, "and put on this flat cap. My orderly 
rides with me to the hunting-lodge to-night." 

"There's an obstacle," I observed. "The horse 
doesn't live that can carry me fcrty miles." 

"Oh, yes, he does — two of him: one here — one at 
the lodge. Now, are vou readv.^" 

"I'm ready," said I.' 

Fritz held out his hand. 

"In case," said he; and we shook hands heartily. 



50 THE PRISONER OF ZENDA 

"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 fallowed 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 magni- 
ficent 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 PRISONER OF ZENDA 51 

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 abruptlv 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 



52 THE PRISONER OF ZENDA 

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 handker- 
chiefs over their eyes, and stood beside them. 
"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 thev 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- 
ser\'ant 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 



THE PRISONER OF ZEN DA 53 

reassuringly : he was always ready to sacrifice inclination 
to duty. 

"Which way?" asked Black Michael. 

"To the Castle, your Highness," urged his com- 
panion. "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 



54 THE PRISONER OF ZENDA 

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 hand- 
kerchiefs, 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 empty bottles. 

"Come on," cried Sapt, whose marvellous com- 
posure 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 handker- 
chiefs," 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 open. 



THE PRISONER OF ZENDA 55 

"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. 



56 THE PRISONER OF ZENDA 



CHAPTER Vn 

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, saying: 

"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 mid-day." 

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. 



THE PRISONER OF ZENDA 57 

"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 again to-morrow." 

"The King?" 

"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." 



58 THE PRISONER OF ZENDA 

"But the- duke knows — the villains he has employed 
know " 

"Ay, but they can't speak!" roared Sapt in grim 
triumph. "WeVe 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 pro- 
duced 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 as 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." 



THE PRISONER OF ZENDA 59 

"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 dow^n, 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 aw^ay, 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 w^ere walking, and I saw^ that 
they carried long implements, w^hich 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 



60 THE PRISONER OF ZENDA 

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. 

Sapt wavered. 

"Well," said he, "it's not business, you know; but 
you've been a good boy — and if we come to grief, 
why, hang me, it'll save us a 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 
our way to the back entrance. Here our horses were 
standing. A carriage- drive swept all round the lodge. 

"Revolver ready .f^" asked Sapt. 

"No; steel for me," said I. 

"Gad, you're thirsty to-night," 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. 



THE PRISONER OF ZENDA 6l 

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. Some- 
one 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 w^ill 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, w^e 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 



62 THE PRISONER OF ZENDA 

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. Fling- 
ing 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. 



THE PRISONER OF ZENDA 63 

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, vou 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 a ^ain 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 inquire 
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!" 



64 THE PRISONER OF ZENDA 

CHAPTER Vni 

A FAIR COUSIN AND A DARK BROTHER 

A REAL king's life is perhaps a hard one; but a pre- 
tended 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 morn- 
ing 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 pother). 

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 ?" 



THE PRISONER OF ZENDA 65 

"And," I suggested, "while the King is here in 
Strelsau, on his throne, what grievance has he against 
his dear brother Michael?" 

"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. 

"Yes— only half." 

"Then the King's alive, for the other three are guard- 
ing him!" cried Sapt. 

"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 main- 
tains 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." 



66 THE PRISONER OF ZENDA 

"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 herfe, 
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 



THE PRISONER OF ZENDA 67 

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 caUing; and in this view Fritz supported 
me with a cordiality that surprised me, until he con- 
fessed 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 ser\^ants who were hanging about, I doubt not that 
they managed a tete-d-tete ; but I had no leisure to thinlc 
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." 



68 THE PRISONER OF ZENDA 

"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 excur- 
sion, 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 amuse- 
ment 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 haughtiress. 

"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, that is " 

"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." 



THE PRISONER OF ZENDA 69 

"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 ?" 

"The Six?" 

"You call them that, too?" 

"To be in the fashion, I do. But I order you to 
receive no one unless you like." 

"Except yourself?" 

"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?" 



70 THE PRISONER OF ZENDA 

"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 heav>^ 
frown on his face. Everyone else was standing, save 
that impudent young dog Fritz, who was lounging 
easily in an arm-chair, 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 per- 
suaded 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 imposter, 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." 



THE PRISONER OF ZENDA 71 

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 fail- 
ing him, and, with an excuse, he said farewell. How- 
ever, 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 



72 THE PRISONER OF ZENDA 

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, v^ith 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 shoulders 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 ?" 

"Of what?" 

"You know — I can't say. But think what your life 
is to " 

"Well, to ?" 

"To Ruritania." 

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. 

"Friends?" 



THE PRISONER OF ZEND A 73 

"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. 



CHAPTER IX 

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 Scylja of dull- 
ness and the Charybdis of indiscretion, and I feel that 
I had far better confine myself strictly to the under- 
ground 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. 



74 THE PRISONER OF ZENDA 

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." 

"What's that?" 

"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 — Lauen- 
gram, Krafstein, and young Rupert Hentzau: three 
rogues, too, on my honour, as fine as live in Ruritania." 

"Well?" 

"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." 

"Fll go to Zenda," said L 

"You're mad." 

"Some day." 

"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,Tm dodged by half-a-dozen fellows." 



THE PRISONER OF ZENDA 75 

"I know you are ; I send *em," he replied composedly. 

"What for?" 

"Well," said Sapt, puffing away, "it wouldn't be 
exactly inconvenient for Black Michael if you dis- 
appeared. 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: 

"// the King desires to know what it deeply concerns the 
King to knoWy 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 hack. At twelve o'clock to-night, if the 
King enters alone hy that gate, turns to the right, and walks 
twenty yards, he zoill find a summer-house, approached by 
a flight of six steps. If he mounts and enters, he will fitui 
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." 

"7/" you hestitate," the writer continued, "consult 
Colonel Sapt " 



76 THE PRISONER OF ZEN DA 

"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 jnarrying his cousin, and therefore most to 
prevent him becoming king ? And ask if her name begins 
with— A r 

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 Eng- 
land," 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. 



THE PRISONER OF ZENDA 77 

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 gn.ss- 
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 miyself 
confn nted 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. 



78 THE PRISONER OF ZENDA 

"In twenty minutes three men will be here to kill 
you." 

"Three— fA^ three?" 

"Yes. You must be gone by then. If not, to-night 
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 hun- 
dred 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." 



THE PRISONER OF ZENDA 79 

I took her hand and kissed it. 

"Madame," said I, *'you have served the King well 
to-night. 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. 



8o THE PRISONER OF ZENDA 

"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 out- 
side 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, I guessed). 

"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," I whispered. 

"What are you going to do?" she asked in fright. 

"You'll see," said I. 



THE PRISONER OF ZENDA 8l 

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 ard 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, 
Bersonn, 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 summer-house 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 



82 THE PRISONER OF ZENDA 

it from him and fired again. I raised my revolver and 
took a snap shot ; I heard him curse, and then I ran Hke 
a hare, laughing as I went, past the summer-house and 
along by the wall. I heard steps behind me, and turn- 
ing 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, laugh- 
ing 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. 



THE PRISONER OF ZENDA 83 

CHAPTER X 

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 docu- 
ment 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 Tarlen- 
heim. 

"The report is rather full of interest this afternoon," 
he observed, sitting down. 

"Do you find," I asked, "any mention of a certain 
fracas V 

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 destina- 
tion 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 



«4 THE PRISONER OF ZENDA 

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 criticised' (you know, he's told to be quite frank) 
'for taking no steps about his marriage. From en- 
quiries 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 to-night in honour of 
the princess to be widely diffused, and the effect is 
gooi'" _ 

"That is news to me," said I. 

"Oh, the preparations are all made!" laughed Fritz. 
"Fve seen to that." 

Sapt turned to me and said, in a sharp, decisive 
voice : 

"You must make love to her to-night, 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 fishl" I groaned. 

"Tut, tutl" said Sapt. "I suppose you've made 



THE PRISONER OF ZENDA 85 

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 to-night." 

"Good heavens!" 

"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 to-morrow. 
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 recognise 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 



86 THE PRISONER OF ZENDA 

have set Satan himself there sooner than that pupil of 
his, Black Michael. 

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: 



THE PRISONER OF ZENDA 87 

"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 1 Then I could show 
you how I love you! How is it that I love you now, 
Rudolf?" 

"Now?" 

"Yes — just lately. I — I never did before." 

Pure triumph filled me. It was I — Rudolf Rassen- 
dyll — 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 Coronation Day." 

"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 Tes' 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. 



88 THE PRISONER OF ZENDA 

"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 h'^s 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 exul- 
tation of love. A sour, yet sad, smile passed over the 



THE PRISONER OF ZEN DA 89 

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 Royal Highness!" 

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 ball-room 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 



90 THE PRISONER OF ZENDA 

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 to-night," 
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 to-night — 
you heard to-night " 

"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 firsts 
and kill me." 



THE PRISONER OF ZENDA 9I 

"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 together to " 

"Fm 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. 



CHAPTER XI 

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 Ruri- 
tania was to wed the Princess Flavia. What of Sapt 



92 THE PRISONER OF ZEN DA 

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, un- 
attended, 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 inamoratay 
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 PRISONER OF ZENDA 93 

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. 

"/ 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 StrelsauJ' 

"Why doesn't it say 'the King' ?" asked Flavia, lean- 
ing 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 to-day. 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 



94 THE PRISONER OF ZENDA 

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 jealously 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 



THE PRISONER OF ZENDA 95 

three days none comes, you will publish an order which 
I will give you, depriving Duke Michael of the governor- 
ship 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 ? " 

"Ay, sire." 

" — 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." 



96 THE PRISONER OF ZENDA 

"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 of forgery." 

"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 others 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 con- 
sulted beforehand, not informed afterwards; but on 



THE PRISONER OF ZENDA 97 

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 happi- 
ness 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 some- 
thing 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 w^ere 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 resi- 
dence. I was recognised as I went and heartily cheered. 
I played my part, and made shift to look the happy 
lover. In spite of my d( pression, 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 hunting expedition. 



98 THE PRISONER OF ZENDA 

"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 fooHsh 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." 

"Fm 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?" 

"Wnat then, Rudolf? Ah! you're not going— ?" 

"Well, it is hunting. I go to seek Michael in his 
lair." 



THE PRISONER OF ZENDA 99 

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 sus- 
picion 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 me." 

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 wonder- 
ing eyes; but I had no answer for her, and she gazed 
at me with her wondering eyes. 



100 THE PRISONER OF ZENDA 

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?" 

"No, sweetheart." 

"Or keep you from me?" 

"No, sweetheart." 

"Nor anyone else?" 

And again I answered: 

"No, sweetheart." 

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. 



THE PRISONER OF ZENDA 101 

CHAPTER Xn 

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 kins- 
man 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 remain- 
ing 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 



102 THE PRISONER OF ZENDA 

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 vas 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 com- 
manded 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 ink- 
ling 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, recognised 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 sneak- 



THE PRISONER OF ZENDA IO3 

ing sort of pity for him invaded me), in his way be 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 cer- 
tainty 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 
m 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. 



104 THE PRISONER OF ZENDA 

"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 grew broader. 

"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 oppor- 
tunity," 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 com- 
panions. 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 PRISONER OF ZENDA IO5 

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 recognise 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 tooth- 
ache. 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." 

"\v'hat 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 w^ant it dropped. Fritz poured out a glass 
and gave it to me. 

"Is the gentleman in great pain?" the girl asked, 
sympathetically. 



I06 THE PRISONER OF ZENDA 

"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 to-night. Go and bring dinner, and 
not a word of the King being here." 

She came back in a few minutes, looking grave, 
yet very curious. 

"Well, how is Johann?" I asked, beginning my 
dinner. 

"Oh, that fellow, sir — my lord King, I mean!" 

" *Sir* will do, please. How is he?" 

"We hardly see him now, sir." 

"And why not?" 

"I told him he came too often, sir," said she, toss- 
ing her head. 

"So he sulks and stays away?" 

"Yes, sir." 

"But you could bring him back?" I suggested with 
a smile. 

"Perhaps I could," said she. 

"I know your powers, you see," said I, and she 
blushed with pleasure. 

"It's not only that, sir, that keeps him away. He's 
very busy at the Castle." 

"But there's no shooting on now." 

"No, sir; but he's in charge of the house." 

"Johann turned housemaid?" 



THE PRISONER OF ZENDA IO7 

The little girl was brimming over with gossip. 

"Well, there are no others," said she. "There's not 
a woman there — not as a servant, I mean. They do 
say — but perhaps it's false, sir." 

"Let's have it for what it's worth," said I. 

"Indeed, I'm ashamed to tell you, sir." 

"Oh, see, I'm looking at the ceiling." 

"They do say there is a lady there, sir; but, except 
for her, there's not a woman in the place. And Johann 
has to w^ait on the gentlemen." 

"Poor Johann! He must be overworked. Yet I'm 
sure he could find half an hour to come and see you." 

"It would depend on the time, sir, perhaps." 

"Do you love him?" I asked. 

"Not I, sir." 

"And you wish to serve the King?'* 

"Yes, sir." 

"Then tell him to meet you at the second milestone 
out of Zenda to-morrow evening at ten o'clock. Say 
you'll be there and will walk home with him." 

"Do you mean him harm, sir?" 

"Not if he will do as I bid him. But I think I've 
told you enough, my pretty maid. See that you do 
as I bid you. And, mind, no one is to know that the 
King has been here." 

I spoke a little sternly, for there is seldom harm in 
infusing a little fear into a woman's liking for you, and 
I softened the effect by giving her a handsome present. 
Then we dined, and, wrapping my cloak about my 
face, with Fritz leading the way, we went downstairs 
to our horses again. 

It was but half-past eight, and hardly yet dark; the 
streets were full for such a quiet little place, and I 
could see that gossip was all agog. With the King on 
one side and the duke on the other, Zenda felt itself 



to8 THE PRISONER OF ZENDA 

the centre of all Ruritania. We jogged gently through 
the town, but set our horses to a sharper pace when 
we reached the open country. 

"You want to catch this fellow Johann?" asked 
Fritz. 

"Ay, and I fancy I've baited the hook right. Our 
little Delilah will bring our Samson. It is not enough, 
Fritz, to have no women in a house, though brother 
Michael shows some wisdom there. If you want 
safety, you must have none within fifty miles." 

"None nearer than Strelsau, for instance," said poor 
Fritz, with a lovelorn sigh. 

We reached the avenue of the chateau^ and were 
soon at the house. As the hoofs of our horses sounded 
on the gravel, Sapt rushed out to meet us. 

"Thank God, you're safe!" he cried. "Have you 
seen anything of them?" 

"Of whom?" I asked, dismounting. 
He drew us aside, that the grooms might not hear. 
"Lad," he said to me, "you must not ride about here, 
unless with half a dozen of us. You know among our 
men a tall young fellow, Bernenstein by name?" 

I knew him. He was a fine strapping young man, 
almost of my height, and of light complexion. 

"He lies in his room upstairs, with a bullet through 
his arm." 

"The deuce he does!'' 

"After dinner he strolled out alone, and went a mile 
or so into the wood; and as he walked, he thought he 
saw three men among the trees ; and one levelled a gun 
at him. He had no weapon, and he started at a run 
back towards the house. But one of them fired, and he 
was hit, and had much ado to reach here before he 
fainted. By good luck, they feared to pursue him 
nearer the house." 



THE PRISONER OF ZENDA IO9 

He paused and added: 

"Lad, the bullet was meant for you." 
"It is very likely," said I, "and it*s first blood to brother 
Michael." 

"I wonder which three it was," said Fritz. 

"Well, Sapt," I said, "I went out to-night for no idle 
purpose, as you shall hear. But there's one thing in 
my mind." 

"What's that?" he asked. 

"Why this," I answered. "That I shall ill requite 
the very great honours Ruritania has done me if I 
depart from it leaving one of those Six alive — neither, 
with the help of God, will I." 

And Sapt shook my hand on that. 



CHAPTER xni 

AN IMPROVEMENT ON JACOBUS LADDER 

In the morning of the day after that on which I swore 
my oath against the Six, I gave certain orders, and 
then rested in greater contentment than I had known 
for some time. I was at work; and work, though it 
cannot cure love, is yet a narcotic to it; so that Sapt, 
who grew feverish, marvelled to see me sprawling in 
an arm-chair in the sunshine, listening to one of my 
friends who sang me amorous songs in a mellow voice 
and induced in me a pleasing melancholy. Thus was 
I engaged when young Rupert Hentzau, who feared 
neither man nor devil, and rode through the demesne 
— where every tree might hide a marksman, for all he 
knew — as though it had been the park at Strelsau, 
cantered up to where I lay, bowing with burlesque 
deference, and craving private speech with me in order 



no THE PRISONER OF ZENDA 

to deliver a message from the Duke of Strelsau. I 
made all withdraw, and then he said, seating himself 
by me: 

"The King is in love, it seems?" 

"Not with life, my lord," said I, smiling. 

"It is well," he rejoined. "Come, we are alone. 
Rassendyll " 

I rose to a sitting posture. 

"What's the matter?" he asked. 

"I was about to call one of my gentlemen to b-ring 
your horse, my lord. If you do not know how to 
address the King, my brother must find another 
messenger." 

"Why keep up the farce?" he asked, negligently 
dusting his boot with his glove. 

"Because it is not finished yet; and meanwhile I'll 
choose my own name." 

"Oh, so be it! Yet I spoke in love for you; for 
indeed you are a man after my own heart." 

"Saving my poor honesty," said I, "maybe I am. 
But that I keep faith with men, and honour with 
women, maybe I am, my lord." 

He darted a glance at me — a glance of anger. 

"Is your mother dead?" said I. 

"Ay, she's dead." 

"She may thank God," said I, and I heard him curse 
me softly. "Well, what's the message?" I continued. 

I had touched him on the raw, for all the world 
knew he had broken his mother's heart and flaunted 
his mistresses in her house; and his airy manner was 
gone for the moment. 

"The duke offers you more than I would," he growled. 
"A halter for you, sire, was my suggestion. But he 
offers you safe-conduct across the frontier and a 
million crowns." 



THE PRISONER OF ZENDA III 

1 prefer your offer, my lord, if I am bound to 



one. 

"You refuse?' 



"Of course." 

"I told Michael you would"; and the villain, his 
temper restored, gave me the sunniest of smiles. "The 
fact is, between ourselves," he continued, "Michael 
doesn't understand a gentleman." 

I began to laugh. 

"And you?" I asked. 

"I do," he said. "Well, well, the halter be it." 

"I'm sorry you won't live to see it," I observed. 

"Has his Majesty done me the honour to fasten a 
particular quarrel on me?" 

"I would you were a few years older, though." 

"Oh, God gives years, but the devil gives increase," 
laughed he. "I can hold my own." 

"How is your prisoner?" I asked. 

"The K ?" 

"Your prisoner." 

"I forgot your wishes, sire. Well, he is alive." 

He rose to his feet; I imitated him. Then, with a 
smile, he said: 

"And the pretty princess? Faith, I'll wager the 
next Elphberg will be red enough, for all that Black 
Michael will be called his father." 

I sprang a step towards him, clenching my hand. 
He did not move an inch, and his lip curled in insolent 
amusement. 

"Go, while your skin's whole!" I muttered. He had 
repaid me with interest my hit about his mother. 

Then came the most audacious thing I have known 
in my life. My friends were some thirty yards away. 
Rupert called to a groom to bring him his horse, and 
dismissed the fellow with a crown. The horse stood 



112 THE PRISONER OF ZENDA 

near. I stood still, suspecting nothing. Rupert made 
as though to mount; then he suddenly turned to me: 
his left hand resting in his belt, his right outstretched : 
"Shake hands," he said. 

I bowed, and did as he had foreseen — I put my 
hands behind me. Quicker than thought, his left 
hand darted out at me, and a small dagger flashed in 
the air; he struck me in the left shoulder — had I not 
swerved, it had been my heart. With a cry, I stag- 
gered back. Without touching the stirrup, he leapt 
upon his horse and was off like an arrow, pursued by 
cries and revolver-shots — the last as useless as the first 
— and I sank into my chair, bleeding profusely, as I 
watched the devil's brat disappear down the long 
avenue. My friends surrounded me, and then I 
fainted. 

I suppose that I was put to bed, and there lay, 
unconscious, or half-conscious, for many hours; for 
it was night when I awoke to my full mind, and found 
Fritz beside me. I was weak and weary, but he bade 
me be of good cheer, saying that my wound would 
soon heal, and that meanwhile all had gone well, for 
Johann, the keeper, had fallen into the snare we had 
laid for him, and was even now in the house. 

"And the queer thing is," pursued Fritz, "that I 
fancy he's not altogether sorry to find himself here. 
He seems to think that when Black Michael has brought 
off his coup, witnesses of how it was effected — saving, 
of course, the Six themselves — will not be at a 
premium." 

This idea argued a shrewdness in our captive which 
led me to build hopes on his assistance. I ordered 
him to be brought in at once. Sapt conducted him, 
and set him in a chair by my bedside. He was sullen 
and afraid; but, to say truth, after young Rupert's 



THE PRISONER OF ZENDA II3 

exploit, we also had our fears, and, if he got as far as 
possible from Sapt's formidable six-shooter, Sapt kept 
him as far as he could from me. Moreover, when he 
came in his hands were bound, but that I would not 
suffer. 

I need not stay to recount the safeguards and rewards 
we promised the fellow — all of which were honourably 
observed and paid, so that he lives now in prosperity 
(though where I may not mention); and we were the 
more free inasmuch as we soon learnt that he was 
rather a weak man than a wicked, and had acted through- 
out this matter more from fear of the duke and of his 
own brother Max than for any love of what was done. 
But he had persuaded all of his loyalty; and though 
not in their secret counsels, was yet, by his knowledge 
of their dispositions within the Castle, able to lay bare 
before us the very heart of their devices. And here, 
in brief, is his story: 

Below the level of the ground in the Castle, 
approached by a flight of stone steps which abutted 
on the end of the drawbridge, were situate two small 
rooms, cut out of the rock itself. The outer of the 
two had no windows, but was always lighted with 
candles ; the inner had one square window, which gave 
upon the moat. In the outer room there lay always, 
day and night, three of the Six; and the instructions 
of Duke Michael were, that on any attack being made 
on the outer room, the three were to defend the door 
of it so long as they could without risk to themselves. 
But, so soon as the door should be in danger of being 
forced, then Rupert Hentzau or Detchard (for one of 
these two was always there) should leave the others 
to hold it as long as they could, and himself pass into 
the inner room, and, without more ado, kill the King 
who lay there, well-treated indeed, but without weapons. 



114 THE PRISONER OF ZENDA 

and with his arms confined in fine steel chains, which 
did not allow him to move his elbow more than three 
inches from his side. Thus, before the outer door 
were stormed, the King would be dead. And his 
body ? For his body would be evidence as damning as 
himself. 

"Nay, sir," s-^id Johann, "his Highness has thought 
of that. While the two hold the outer room, the one 
who has killed the King unlocks the bars in the square 
window (they turn on a hinge). The window now 
gives no light, for its mouth is choked by a great pipe 
of earthenware; and this pipe, which is large enough 
to let pass through it the body of a man, passes into 
the moat, coming to an end immediately above the 
surface of the water, so that there is no perceptible 
interval between water and pipe. The King being 
dead, his murderer swiftly ties a weight to the body, 
and, dragging it to the window, raises it by a pulley 
(for, lest the weight should prove too great, Detchard 
has provided one) till it is level with the mouth of the 
pipe. He inserts the feet in the pipe, and pushes the 
body down. Silently, without splash or sound, it 
falls into the water and thence to the bottom of the 
moat, which is twenty feet deep thereabouts. This 
done, the murderer cries loudly, 'All's well!' and him- 
self slides down the pipe; and the others, if they can 
and the attack is not too hot, run to the inner room 
and, seeking a moment's delay, bar the door, and in 
their turn slide down. And though the King rises not 
from the bottom, they rise and swim round to the 
other side, where the orders are for men to wait them 
with ropes, to haul them out, and horses. And here, 
if things go ill, the duke will join them and seek safety 
by riding; but if all goes well, they will return to the 
Castle, and have their enemies in a trap. That, sir, 



THE PRISONER OF ZENDA II5 

is the plan of his Highness for the disposal of the King 
in case of need. But it is not to be used till the last; 
for, as we all know, he is not minded to kill the King 
unless he can, before or soon after, kill you also, sir. 
Now, sir, I have spoken the truth, as God is my wit- 
ness, and I pray you to shield me from the vengeance 
of Duke Michael; for if, after he knows what I have 
done, I fall into his hands, I shall pray for one thing 
out of all the world — a speedy death, and that I shall 
not obtain from him ! " 

The fellow's story was rudely told, but our questions 
supplemented his narrative. What he had told us 
applied to an armed attack; but if suspicions were 
aroused, and there came overwhelming force — such, 
for instance, as I, the King, could bring — the idea of 
resistance would be abandoned; the King would be 
quietly murdered and slid down the pipe. And — here 
comes an ingenious touch — one of the Six would take 
his place in the cell, and, on the entrance of the 
searchers, loudly demand release and redress; and 
Michael, being summoned, would confess to hasty 
action, but he would say the man had angered him by 
seeking the favour of a lady in the Castle (this was 
Antoinette de Mauban) and he had confined him there, 
as he conceived he, as Lord of Zenda, had right to do. 
But he was now, on receiving his apology, content to 
let him go, and so end the gossip which, to his High- 
ness's annoyance, had arisen concerning a prisoner in 
Zenda, and had given his visitors the trouble of this 
inquiry. The visitors, baffled, would retire, and 
Michael could, at his leisure, dispose of the body of 
the King. 

Sapt, Fritz, and I in my bed, looked round on one 
another in horror and bewilderment at the cruelty and 
cunning of the plan. Whether I went in peace or in 



Il6 THE PRISONER OF ZENDA 

war, openly at the head of a corps^ or secretly by a 
stealthy assault, the King would be dead before I could 
come near him. If Michael were stronger and over- 
came my party, there would be an end. But if I were 
stronger, I should have no way to punish him, no 
means of proving any guilt in him without proving my 
own guilt also. On the other hand, I should be left 
as King (ah! for a moment my pulse quickened) and 
it would be for the future to witness the final struggle 
between him and me. He seemed to have made 
triumph possible and ruin impossible. At the worst, 
he would stand as well as he had stood before I crossed 
his path — with but one man between him and the 
throne, and that man an impostor ; at best, there would 
be none left to stand against him. I had begun to 
think that Black Michael was over fond of leaving the 
fighting to his friends; but now I acknowledged that 
the brains, if not the arms, of the conspiracy were his. 

"Does the King know this?" I asked. 

"I and my brother," answered Johann, "put up the 
pipe, under the orders of my Lord of Hentzau. He 
was on guard that day, and the King asked my lord 
what it meant. 'Faith,' he answered, with his airy 
laugh, 'it's a new improvement on the ladder of Jacob, 
whereby, as you have read, sire, men pass from earth 
to heaven. We thought it not meet that your Majesty 
should go, in case, sire, you must go, by the common 
route. So we have made you a pretty private passage 
where the vulgar cannot stare at you or incommode 
your passage. That, sire, is the meaning of that pipe.' 
And he laughed and bowed, and prayed the King's 
leave to replenish the King's glass — for the King was 
at supper. And the King, though he is a brave man, 
as are all of his House, grew red and then white as he 
looked on the pipe and at the merry devil who mocked 



THE PRISONER OF ZENDA I17 

him. Ah, sir" (and the fellow shuddered), "it is not 
easy to sleep quiet in the Castle of Zenda, for all of 
them would as soon cut a man's throat as play a game 
at cards; and my Lord Rupert would choose it sooner 
for a pastime than any other — ay, sooner than he would 
ruin a woman, though that he loves also." 

The man ceased, and I bade Fritz take him away 
and have him carefully guarded; and, turning to him, 
I added: 

"If anyone asks you if there is a prisoner in Zenda, 
you may answer 'Yes.' But if any asks who the 
prisoner is, do not answer. For all my promises will 
not save you if any man here learns from you the truth 
as to the prisoner in Zenda. FU kill you like a dog if 
the thing be so much as breathed within the house!" 

Then, when he was gone, I looked at Sapt. 

"It's a hard nut!" said I. 

"So hard," said he, shaking his grizzled head, "that, 
as I think, this time next year is like to find you still 
King of Ruritania!" and he broke out into curses on 
Michael's cunning. 

I lay back on my pillows. 

"There seem to me," I observed, "to be two ways 
by which the King can come out of Zenda alive. One 
is by treachery in the duke's followers." 

"You can leave that out," said Sapt. 

"I hope not," I rejoined, "because the other I was 
about to mention is — by a miracle from heaven!" 



Il8 THE PRISONER OF ZENDA 



CHAPTER XIV 

A NIGHT OUTSIDE THE CASTLE 

It would have surprised the good people of Ruritania 
to know of the foregoing talk; for, according to the 
official reports, I had suffered a grievous and dangerous 
hurt from an accidental spear-thrust, received in the 
course of my sport. I caused the bulletins to be of a 
very serious character, and created great public excite- 
ment, whereby three things occurred: first, I gravely 
offended the medical faculty of Strelsau by refusing 
to summon to my bedside any of them, save a young 
man, a friend of Fritz's, whom we could trust ; secondly, 
I received word from Marshal Strakencz that my orders 
seemed to have no more weight than his, and that the 
Princess Flavia was leaving for Tarlenheim under his 
unwilling escort (news whereat I strove not to be glad 
and proud); and thirdly, my brother, the Duke of 
Strelsau, although too well informed to believe the 
account of the origin of my sickness, was yet persuaded 
by the reports and by my seeming inactivity that I was 
in truth incapable of action, and that my life was in 
some danger. This I learnt from the man Johann, 
whom I was compelled to trust and send back to Zenda, 
where, by the way, Rupert Hentzau had him soundly 
flogged for daring to smirch the morals of Zenda by 
staying out all night in the pursuits of love. This, 
from Rupert, Johann deeply resented, and the duke's 
approval of it did more to bind the keeper to my side 
than all my promises. 

On Flavia's arrival I cannot dwell. Her joy at 
finding me up and well, instead of on my back and 
fighting with death, makes a picture that even now 



THE PRISONER OF ZENDA II9 

dances before my eyes till they grow too dim to see 
it; and her reproaches that I had not trusted even 
her must excuse the means I took to quiet them. In 
truth, to have her with me once more was like a taste 
of heaven to a damned soul, the sweeter for the inevit- 
able doom that was to follow; and I rejoiced in being 
able to waste two whole days with her. And when I 
had wasted two days, the Duke of Strelsau arranged a 
hunting-party. 

The stroke was near now. For Sapt and I, after 
anxious consultations, had resolved that we must risk 
a blow, our resolution being clinched by Johann's news 
that the King grew peaked, pale, and ill, and that his 
health was breaking down under his rigorous confine- 
ment. Now a man — be he king or no king — may as 
well die swiftly and as becomes a gentleman, from 
bullet or thrust, as rot his life out in a cellar!^ That 
thought made prompt action advisable in the interests 
of the King ; from my own point of view, it grew more 
and more necessary. For Strakencz urged on me the 
need of a speedy marriage, and my own inclinations 
seconded him with such terrible insistence that I feared 
for my resolution. I do not believe that I should have 
done the deed I dreamt of; but I might have come to 
flight, and my flight would have ruined the cause. 
And — yes, I am no saint (ask my little sister-in-law), 
and worse still might have happened. 

It is perhaps as strange a thing as has ever been in 
the history of a country that the King's brother and 
the King's personator, in a time of profound outward 
peace, near a placid undisturbed country town, under 
semblance of ^ajpiiy, should wage a desperate war for 
the person and life of the King. Yet such was the 
struggle that began now between Zenda and Tarlen- 
heim. When I look back on the time, I seem to myself 



120 THE PRISONER OF ZENDA 

to have been half-mad. Sapt has told me that I 
suffered no interference and listened to no remon- 
strances; and if ever a King of Ruritania ruled like a 
despot, I was, in those days, the man. Look where I 
would, I saw nothing that made life sweet to me, and 
I took my life in my hand and carried it carelessly as a 
man dangles an old glove. At first they strove to guard 
me, to keep me safe, to persuade me not to expose 
myself; but when they saw how I was set, there grew 
up among them — ^whether they knew the truth or 
not — a feeling that Fate ruled the issue, and that I 
must be left to play my game with Michael my own 
way. 

Late next night I rose from table, where Flavia had 
sat by me, and conducted her to the door of her apart- 
ments. There I kissed her hand, and bade her sleep 
sound and wake to happy days. Then I changed my 
clothes and went out. Sapt and Fritz were waiting for 
me with six men and the horses. Over his saddle 
Sapt carried a long coil of rope, and both were heavily 
armed. 1 had with me a short stout cudgel and a long 
knife. Making a circuit, we avoided the town, and in 
an hour found ourselves slowly mounting the hill that 
led to the Castle of Zenda. The night was dark and 
very stormy; gusts of wind and spits of rain caught 
us as we breasted the incline, and the great trees moaned 
and sighed. When we came to a thick clump, about a 
quarter of a mile from the Castle, we bade our six 
friends hide there with the horses. Sapt had a whistle, 
and they could rejoin us in a few moments if danger 
came: but, up to now, we had met no one. I hoped 
that Michael was still off his guard, believing me to be 
safe in bed. However that might be, we gained the 
top of the hill without accident, and found ourselves 
on the edge of the moat where it sweeps under the 



THE PRISONER OF ZENDA 121 

road, separating the Old Castle from it. A tree stood 
on the edge of the bank, and Sapt, silently and dili- 
gently, set to make fast the rope. I stripped off my 
boots, took a pull at a flask of brandy, loosened the 
knife in its sheath, and took the cudgel between my 
teeth. Then I shook hands with my friends, not 
heeding a last look of entreaty from Fritz, and laid hold 
of the rope. I was going to have a look at "Jacob's 
Ladder." 

Gently I lowered myself into the water. Though 
the night was wild, the day had been warm and bright, 
and the water was not cold. I struck out, and began 
to swim round the great walls which frowned above 
me. I could see only three yards ahead; I had then 
good hopes of not being seen, as I crept along close 
under the damp, moss-grown masonry. There were 
lights from the new part of .the Castle on the other 
side, and now and again I heard laughter and merry 
shouts. I fancied I recognised young Rupert Hent- 
zau's ringing tones, and pictured him flushed with wine. 
Recalling my thoughts to the business in hand, I rested 
a moment. If Johann's description were right, I must 
be near the window now. Very slowly I moved ; and 
out of the darkness ahead loomed a shape. It was the 
pipe, curving from the window to the water : about four 
feet of its surface were displayed ; it was as big round 
as two men. I was about to approach it, when I saw 
something else, and my heart stood still. The nose 
of a boat protruded beyond the pipe on the other side ; 
and listening intently, I heard a sHght shuffle — as of 
a man shifting his position. Who was the man who 
guarded Michael's invention? Was he awake or was 
he asleep ? I felt if my knife were ready, and trod 
water; as I did so, I found bottom under my feet. 
The foundations of the Castle extended some fifteen 



122 THE PRISONER OF ZENDA 

inches, making a ledge ; and I stood on it, out of water 
from my armpits upwards. Then I crouched and 
peered through the darkness under the pipe, where, 
curving, it left a space. 

There was a man in the boat. A rifle lay by him — 
I saw the gleam of the barrel. Here was the sentinel ! 
He sat very still. I listened: he breathed heavily, 
regularly, monotonously. By heaven, he slept ! Kneel- 
ing on the shelf, I drew forward under the pipe till 
my face was within two feet of his. He was a big man, 
I saw. It was Max Holf, the brother of Johann. My 
hand stole to my belt, and I drew out my knife. Of 
all the deeds of my life, I love the least to think of this, 
and whether it were the act of a man or a traitor I will 
not ask. I said to myself: "It is war — and the King's 
life is the stake." And I raised myself from beneath the 
pipe and stood up by the boat, which lay moored by 
the ledge. Holding my breath, I marked the spot 
and raised my arm. The great fellow stirred. He 
opened his eyes — wide, wider. He gasped in terror at 
my face and clutched at his rifle. I struck home. And 
I heard the chorus of a love-song from the opposite 
bank. 

Leaving him where he lay, a huddled mass, I turned 
to "Jacob's Ladder." My time was short. This 
fellow's turn of watching might be over directly, and 
relief would come. Leaning over the pipe, I examined 
it, from the end near the water to the topmost extremity 
where it passed, or seemed to pass, through the masonry 
of the wall. There was no break in it, no chink. Drop- 
ping on my knees, I tested the under side. And my 
breath went quick and fast, for on this lower side, 
where the pipe should have clung close to the masonry, 
there was a gleam of light! That light must come 
from the cell of the King ! I set my shoulder against 



THE PRISONER OF ZENDA I23 

the pipe and exerted my strength. The chink widened 
a very, very Httle, and hastily I desisted; I had done 
enough to show that the pipe was not fixed in the 
masonry at the lower side. 

Then I heard a voice — a harsh, grating voice: 

"Well, sire, if you have had enough of my society, 
I will leave you to repose; but I must fasten the little 
ornaments first." 

It was Detchard! I caught the English accent in a 
moment. 

"Have you anything to ask, sire, before we part?" 

The King's voice followed. It was his, though it 
was faint and hollow — diflferent from the merry tones 
I had heard in the glades of the forest. 

"Pray my brother," said the King, "to kill me. I 
am dying by inches here." 

"The duke does not desire your death, sire — yet," 
sneered Detchard; "when he does, behold your path 
to heaven!" 

The King answered: 

"So be it! And now, if your orders allow it, pray 
leave me." 

"May you dream of paradise!" said the ruffian. 

The light disappeared. I heard the bolts of the 
door run home. And then I heard the sobs of the 
King. He was alone, as he thought. Who dares mock 
at him ? 

I did not venture to speak to him. The risk of some 
exclamation escaping him in surprise was too great. 
I dared do nothing that night ; and my task now was to 
get myself away in safety, and to carry off the carcase 
of the dead man. To leave him there would tell too 
much. Casting loose the boat, I got in. The wind 
was blowing a gale now, and there was little danger of 
oars being heard. I rowed swiftly round to where my 



124 "T^E PRISONER OF ZENDA 

friends waited. I had just reached the spot, when a 
loud whistle sounded over the moat behind me. 

"Hullo, Max!" I heard shouted. 

I hailed Sapt in a low tone. The rope came down. 
I tied it round the corpse, and then went up it 
myself. 

"Whistle you too," I whispered, "for our men, and 
haul in the line. No talk now." 

They hauled up the body. Just as it reached the 
road, three men on horseback swept round from the 
front of the Castle. We saw them ; but, being on foot 
ourselves, we escaped their notice. But we heard our 
men coming up with a shout. 

"The devil, but it*s dark!" cried a ringing voice. 

It was young Rupert. A moment later, shots rang 
out. Our people had met them. I started forward at 
a run, Sapt and Fritz following me. 

"Thrust, thrust!" cried Rupert again, and a loud 
groan following told that he himself was not behind- 
hand. 

"I'm done, Rupert!" cried a voice. "They're three 
to one. Save yourself!" 

I ran on, holding my cudgel in my hand. Suddenly 
a horse came towards me. A man was on it, leaning 
over his shoulder. 

"Are you cooked too, Krafstein?" he cried. 

There was no answer. 

I sprang to the horse's head. It was Rupert Hentzau. 

"At last!" I cried. 

For we seemed to have him. He had only his sword 
in his hand. My men were hot upon him; Sapt and 
Fritz were running up. I had outstripped them; 
but if they got close enough to fire, he must die or 
surrender. 

"At last!" I cried. 



THE PRISONER OF ZENDA I25 

"It's the play-actor!" cried he, slashing at my cudgel. 
He cut it clean in two; and, judging discretion better 
than death, I ducked my head and (I blush to tell it) 
scampered for my life. The devil was in Rupert 
Hentzau; for he put spurs to his horse, and I, turning 
to look, saw him ride, full gallop, to the edge of the 
moat and leap in, while the shots of our party fell 
thick round him like hail. With one gleam of moon- 
light we should have riddled him with balls; but, in 
the darkness, he won to the corner of the Castle, and 
vanished from our sight. 

"The deuce take him!" grinned Sapt. 

"It's a pity," said I, "that he's a villain. Whom 
have we got?" 

We had Lauengram and Krafstein: they lay dead; 
and, concealment being no longer possible, we flung 
them, with Max, into the moat ; and, drawing together 
in a compact body, rode off down the hill. And, in 
our midst, went the bodies of three gallant gentlemen. 
Thus we travelled home, heavy at heart for the death 
of our friends, sore uneasy concerning the King, and 
cut to the quick that young Rupert had played yet 
another winning hand with us. 

For my own part, I was vexed and angry that I 
had killed no man in open fight, but only stabbed a 
knave in his sleep. And I did not love to hear Rupert 
call me a play-actor. 



126 THE PRISONER OF ZENDA 

CHAPTER XV 

I TALK WITH A TEMPTER 

KuRlTANiA is not England, or the quarrel between 
Duke Michael and myself could not have gone on, 
with the extraordinary incidents which marked it, 
without more public notice being directed to it. Duels 
were frequent among all the upper classes, and private 
quarrels between great men kept the old habit of 
spreading to their friends and dependents. Neverthe- 
less, after the affray which I have just related, such 
reports began to circulate that I felt it necessary to be 
on my guard. The death of the gentlemen involved 
could not be hidden from their relatives. I issued a 
stern order, declaring that duelling had attained 
unprecedented license (the Chancellor drew up the 
document for me, and very well he did it), and for- 
bidding it save in the gravest cases. I sent a public 
and stately apology to Michael, and he returned a 
deferential and courteous reply to me; for our one 
point of union was — and it underlay all our differences 
and induced an unwilling harmony between our actions 
■ — that we could neither of us afford to throw our cards 
on the table. He, as well as I, was a "play-actor," and, 
hating one another, we combined to dupe public 
opinion. Unfortunately, however, the necessity for 
concealment involved the necessity of delay : the King 
might die in his prison, or even be spirited off some- 
where else; it could not be helped. For a little while 
I was compelled to observe a truce, and my only con- 
solation was that Flavia most warmly approved of 
my edict against duelling, and, when I expressed delight 
at having won her favour, prayed me, if her favour 



THE PRISONER OF ZENDA I27 

were any motive to me, to prohibit the practice 
altogether. 

"Wait till we are married," said I, smiling. 

Not the least peculiar result of the truce and of the 
secrecy which dictated it was that the town of Zenda 
became in the daytime — I would not have trusted far 
to its protection by night — a sort of neutral zone, 
where both parties could safely go ; and I, riding down 
one day with Flavia and Sapt, had an encounter with 
an acquaintance, which presented a ludicrous side, 
but was at the same time embarrassing. As I rode 
along, I met a dignified-looking person driving in a 
two-horsed carriage. He stopped his horses, got out, 
and approached me, bowing low, I recognised the 
Head of the Strelsau Police. 

"Your Majesty's ordinance as to duelling is receiving 
our best attention," he assured me. 

If the best attention involved his presence in Zenda, 
I determined at once to dispense with it. 

"Is that what brings you to Zenda, Prefect ?" I asked. 

"Why no, sire ; I am here because I desired to oblige 
the British Ambassador." 

"W^hat's the British Ambassador doing dans cette 
galere? " said I, carelessly. 

"A young count r}'man of his, sire — a man of some 
position, — is missing. His friends have not heard from 
him for two months, and there is reason to believe that 
he was last seen in Zenda." 

Flavia was paying little attention. I dared not look 
at Sapt. 

"What reason?" 

"A friend of his in Paris — a certain M. Featherly — 
has given us information which makes it possible that 
he came here, and the officials of the railway recollect 
his name on some luggage." 

E 



128 THE PRISONER OF ZENDA 

"What was his name ? " 

"Rassendyll, sire," he answered; and I saw that the 
name meant nothing to him. But, glancing at Flavia 
he lowered his voice, as he went on: "It is thought 
that he may have followed a lady here. Has your 
Majesty heard of a certain Madame de Mauban?" 

"Why, yes," said I, my eye involuntarily travelling 
towards the Castle. 

"She arrived in Ruritania about the same time as 
this Rassendyll." 

I caught the Prefect's glance; he was regarding me 
with inquiry writ large on his face. 

"Sapt," said I, "I must speak a word to the Prefect. 
Will you ride on a few paces with the princess ?" And 
I added to the Prefect : "Come, sir, what do you mean ?" 

He drew close to me, and I bent in the saddle. 

"If he were in love with the lady?" he whispered. 
"Nothing has been heard of him for two months" ; and 
this time it was the eye of the Prefect which travelled 
towards the Castle. 

"Yes, the lady is there," I said quietly. "But I don't 
suppose Mr. Rassendyll — is that the name? — is." 

"The duke," he whispered, "does not like rivals, 
sire." 

"You're right there," said I, with all sincerity. 
"But surely you hint at a very grave charge?" 

He spread his hands out in apology. I whispered 
in his ear: 

"This is a grave matter. Go back to Strelsau " 

"But, sire, if I have a clue here ?" 

"Go back to Strelsau," I repeated. "Tell the 
Ambassador that you have a clue, but that you must 
be left alone for a week or two. Meanwhile, I'll 
charge myself with looking into the matter." 

"The Ambassador is very pressing, sire." 



THE PRISONER OF ZEND A I29 

"You must quiet him. Come, sir; you see that if 
your suspicions are correct, it is an affair in which we 
must move with caution. We can have no scandal. 
Mind you return to-night." 

He promised to obey me, and I rode on to rejoin my 
companions, a Httle easier in my mind. Inquiries after 
me must be stopped at all hazards for a week or two; 
and this clever official had come surprisingly near the 
truth. His impression might be useful some day, but 
if he acted on it now it might mean the worse to the 
King. Heartily did I curse George Featherly for not 
holding his tongue. 

"Well," asked Flavia, "have you finished your 
business?" 

"Most satisfactorily," said I. "Come, shall we turn 
round ? We are almost trenching on my brother's 
territory." 

We were, in fact, at the extreme end of the town, 
just where the hill begins to mount towards the Castle. 
We cast our eyes up, admiring the massive beauty of 
the old walls, and we saw a cortege winding slowly 
down the hill. On it came. 

"Let us go back," said Sapt. 

"I should like to stay," said Flavia ; and I reined my 
horse beside hers. 

We could distinguish the approaching party now. 
There came first two mounted servants in black uni- 
forms, relieved only by a silver badge. These w^ere 
followed by a car drawn by four horses: on it, under 
a heavy pall, lay a coffin ; behind it rode a man in plain 
black clothes, carrying his hat in his hand. Sapt 
uncovered, and we stood waiting, Flavia keeping by 
me and laying her hand on my arm. 

"It is one of the gentlemen killed in the quarrel, I 
expect," she said. 



130 THE PRISONER OF ZENDA 

I beckoned to a groom. 

"Ride and ask whom they escort," I ordered. 

He rode up to the servants, and I saw him pass on 
to the gentleman who rode behind. 

"It's Rupert of Hentzau," whispered Sapt. 

Rupert it was, and directly afterwards, waving to 
the procession to stand still, Rupert trotted up to me. 
He was in a frock-coat, tightly buttoned, and trousers. 
He wore an aspect of sadness, and he bowed with 
profound respect. Yet suddenly he smiled, and I 
smiled too, for old Sapt's hand lay in his left breast- 
pocket, and Rupert and I both guessed what lay in the 
hand inside the pocket. 

"Your Majesty asks whom we escort," said Rupert. 
"It is my dear friend, Albert of Lauengram." 

"Sir," said I, "no one regrets the unfortunate affair 
more than I. My ordinance, which I mean to have 
obeyed, is witness to it." 

"Poor fellow!" said Flavia softly, and I saw Rupert's 
eyes flash at her. Whereat I grew red ; for, if I had my 
way, Rupert Hentzau should not have defiled her by 
so much as a glance. Yet he did it and dared to let 
admiration be seen in his look. 

"Your Majesty's words are gracious," he said. "I 
grieve for my friend. Yet, sire, others must soon lie 
as he lies now." 

"It is a thing we all do well to remember, my lord," 
I rejoined. 

"Even kings, sire," said Rupert, in a moralising tone ; 
and old Sapt swore softly by my side. 

"It is true," said I. "How fares my brother, my lord ?" 

"He is better, sire." 

"I am rejoiced." 

"He hopes soon to leave for Strelsau, when hit 
health is secured." 



THE PRISONER OF ZENDA 131 

"He is only convalescent then?" 

"There remain one or two small troubles," answered 
the insolent fellow, in the mildest tone in the world. 

"Express my earnest hope," said Flavia, "that they 
may soon cease to trouble him." 

"Your Royal Highness's wish is, humbly, my own," 
said Rupert, with a bold glance that brought a blush to 
Flavia' s cheek. 

I bowed; and Rupert, bowing lower, backed his 
horse and signed to his party to proceed. With a 
sudden impulse, I rode after him. He turned swiftly, 
fearing that, even in the presence of the dead and 
before a lady's eyes, I meant him mischief. 

"You fought as a brave man the other night," I said. 
"Come, you are young, sir. If you will deliver your 
prisoner alive to me, you shall come to no hurt." 

He looked at me with a mocking smile ; but suddenly 
he rode nearer to me. 

"I'm unarmed," he said; "and our old Sapt there 
could pick me off in a minute." 

"I'm not afraid," said I. 

"No, curse you I" he answered. "Look here, I made 
you a proposal from the duke once." 

"I'll hear nothing from Black Michael," said I. 

"Then hear one from me." He lowered his voice to 
a whisper. "Attack the Castle boldly. Let Sapt and 
Tarlenheim lead." 

"Go on," said I. 

"Arrange the time with me." 

"I have such confidence in you, my lord!" 

"Tut! I'm talking business now. Sapt there and 
Fritz will fall ; Black Michael will fall " 

"What!" 

"—Black Michael will fall, like the dog he is; the 
prisoner, as you call him, will go by 'Jacob's Ladder' — 



132 THE PRISONER OF ZENDA 

ah, you know that! — to hell! Two men will be left — 
I, Rupert Hentzau, and you, the King of Ruritania." 

He paused, and then, in a voice that quivered with 
eagerness, added: 

"Isn't that a hand to play ? — a throne and your 
princess! And for me, say a competence and your 
Majesty's gratitude." 

"Surely," I exclaimed, "while you're above ground, 
hell wants its master!" 

"Well, think it over," he said. "And, look you, it 
would take more than a scruple or two to keep me from 
yonder girl," and his evil eye flashed again at her I 
loved. 

"Get out of my reach !" said I ; and yet in a moment 
I began to laugh for the very audacity of it. 

"Would you turn against your master?" I asked. 

He swore at Michael for being what the ofi'spring of 
a legal, though morganatic, union should not be called, 
and said to me, in an almost confidential and apparently 
friendly tone: 

"He gets in my way, you know. He's a jealous 
brute ! Faith, I nearly stuck a knife into him last night ; 
he came most cursedly mal d proposi" 

My temper was well under control now ; I was learn- 
ing something. 

"A lady?" I asked negligently. 

"Ay, and a beauty," he nodded. "But you've seen 
her." 

"Ah ! was it at a tea-party, when some of your friends 
got on the wrong side of the table?" 

"What can you expect of fools like Detchard and 
De Gautet ? I wish I'd been there." 

"And the duke interferes?" 

"Well," said Rupert meditatively, "that's hardly a 
fair way of putting it, perhaps. I want to interfere." 



THE PRISONER OF ZENDA I33 

"And she prefers the duke?" 

"Ay, the silly creature! Ah, well, you think about 
my plan," and, with a bow, he pricked his horse and 
trotted after the body of his friend. 

I went back to Flavia and Sapt, pondering on the 
strangeness of the man. Wicked men I have known 
in plenty, but Rupert Hentzau remains unique in my 
experience. And if there be another anywhere, let him 
be caught and hanged out of hand. So say I ! 

"He's very handsome, isn't he?" said Flavia. 

Well, of course, she didn't know him as I did ; yet I 
was put out, for I thought his bold glances would have 
made her angry. But my dear Flavia was a woman, 
and so — she was not put out. On the contrary, she 
thought young Rupert very handsome — as, beyond 
question, the ruffian was. 

"And how sad he looked at his friend's death!" 
said she. 

"He'll have better reason to be sad at his own," 
observed Sapt, with a grim smile. 

As for me, I grew sulky ; unreasonable it was perhaps, 
for what better business had I to look at her with love 
than had even Rupert's lustful eyes? And sulky I 
remained till, as evening fell and we rode up to Tarlen- 
heim, Sapt having fallen behind in case anyone should 
be following us, Flavia, riding close beside me, said 
softly, with a little half-ashamed laugh: 

"Unless you smile, Rudolf, I cry. Why are you 
angry?" 

"It was something that fellow said to me," said I 
but I was smiling as we reached the door and dis- 
mounted. 

There a servant handed me a note: it was un- 
addressed. 

"Is it for me ?" I asked. 



134 "^"^ PRISONER OF ZENDA 

"Yes, sire; a boy brought it." 
I tore it open: 

''Johann carries this for me. I warned you once. In 
the name of God, a?id if you are a man, rescue me from this 
den of murderers! — A. de M." 

I handed it to Sapt; but all that the tough old soul 
said in reply to this piteous appeal was: 

"Whose fault brought her there?" 

Nevertheless, not being faultless myself, I took leave 
to pity Antoinette de Mauban. 



CHAPTER XVI 

A DESPERATE PLAN 

As I had ridden publicly in Zenda, and had talked 
there with Rupert Hentzau, of course all pretence of 
illness was at an end. I marked the effect on the 
garrison of Zenda : they ceased to be seen abroad ; and 
any of my men who went near the Castle reported that 
the utmost vigilance prevailed there. Touched as I 
was by Madame de Mauban's appeal, I seemed as 
powerless to befriend her as I had proved to help the 
King. Michael bade me defiance; and although he 
too had been seen outside the walls, with more dis- 
regard for appearances than he had hitherto shown, he 
did not take the trouble to send any excuse for his 
failure to wait on the King. Time ran on in inactivity, 
when every moment was pressing; for not only was I 
faced with the new danger which the stir about my 
disappearance brought on me, but great murmurs had 
arisen in Strelsau at my continued absence from the 



THE PRISONER OF ZENDA I35 

City. They had been greater, but for the knowledge 
that Flavia was with me ; and for this reason I suffered 
her to stay, though I hated to have her where danger 
was, and though every day of our present sweet inter- 
course strained my endurance almost to breaking. As 
a final blow, nothing would content my advisers, 
Strakencz and the Chancellor (who came out from 
Strelsau to make an urgent representation to me) save 
that I should appoint a day for the public solemnisation 
of my betrothal, a ceremony which in Ruritania is well- 
nigh as binding and great a thing as the marriage itself. 
And this — with Flavia sitting by me — I was forced to 
do, setting a date a fortnight ahead, and appointing 
the Cathedral in Strelsau as the place. And this 
formal act being published far and wide, caused 
great joy throughout the kingdom, and was the talk 
of all tongues; so that I reckoned there were but 
two men who chafed at it — I mean Black Michael 
and myself; and but one who did not know of it — 
that one the man whose name I bore, the King of 
Ruritania. 

In truth, I he-^.rd something of the way the news was 
received in the Castle; for after an interval of three 
days, the man Johann, greedy for more money, though 
fearful for his life, again found means to visit us. He 
had been waiting on the duke when the tidings came. 
Black Michael's face had grown blacker still, and he 
had sworn savagely; nor was he better pleased when 
young Rupert took oath that I meant to do as I said, 
and turning to Madame de Mauban, wished her joy 
on a rival gone. Michael's hand stole towards his 
sword (said Johann), but not a bit did Rupert care; 
for he rallied the duke on having made a better King 
than had reigned for years past in Ruritania. "And,'* 
said he, with a meaning bow to his exasperated master, 

*E 



136 THE PRISONER OF ZENDA 

"the devil sends the princess a finer man than heaven 
had marked out for her, by my soul, it does ! " Then 
Michael harshly bade him hold his tongue, and leave 
them ; but Rupert must needs first kiss madame's hand, 
which he did as though he loved her, while Michael 
glared at him. 

This was the lighter side of the fellow's news; but 
more serious came behind, and it was plain that if time 
pressed at Tarlenheim, it pressed none the less fiercely 
at Zenda. For the King was very sick: Johann had 
seen him, and he was wasted and hardly able to move. 
"There could be no thought of taking another for him 
now." So alarmed were they, that they had sent for a 
physician from Strelsau ; and the physician having been 
introduced into the King's cell, had come forth pale 
and trembling, and urgently prayed the duke to let 
him go back and meddle no more in the affair ; but the 
duke would not, and held him there a prisoner, telling 
him his life was safe if the King lived while the duke 
desired and died when the duke desired — not other- 
wise. And, persuaded by the physician, they had 
allowed Madame de Mauban to visit the King and give 
him such attendance as his state needed, and as only a 
woman can give. Yet his life hung in the balance; 
and I was still strong and whole and free. Wherefore 
great gloom reigned at Zenda; and save when they 
quarrelled, to which they were very prone, they hardly 
spoke. But the deeper the depression of the rest, 
young Rupert went about Satan's work with a smile 
in his eye and a song on his lip; and laughed "fit to 
burst" (said Johann) because the duke always set 
Detchard to guard the King when Madame de Mauban 
was in the cell — which precaution was, indeed, not 
unwise in my careful brother. Thus Johann told his 
tale and seized his crowns. Yet he besought us to 



THE PRISONER OF ZENDA 137 

allow him to stay with us in Tarlenheim, and not ven- 
ture his head again in the lion's den ; but we had need 
of him there, and, although I refused to constrain him, 
I prevailed on him by increased rewards to go back and 
carry tidings to Madame de Mauban that I was working 
for her, and that, if she could, she should speak one 
word of comfort to the King. For while suspense is 
bad for the sick, yet despair is worse still, and it might 
be that the King lay dying of mere hopelessness, 
for I could learn of no definite disease that afflicted 
him. 

"And how do they guard the King now?" I asked, 
remembering that two of the Six were dead, and Max 
Holf also. 

"Detchard and Bersonin watch by night, Rupert 
Hentzau and De Gautet by day, sir," he answered. 

"Only two at a time.?" 

"Ay, sir; but the others rest in a room just above, 
and are within sound of a cry or a whistle." 

"A room just above? I didn't know of that. Is 
there any communication between it and the room 
where they watch?" 

"No, sir. You must go down a few stairs and through 
the door by the drawbridge, and so to where the King 
is lodged." 

"And that door is locked?" 

"Only the four lords have keys, sir." 

I drew nearer to him. 

"And have they keys of the grating ?" I asked in a low 
whisper. 

"I think, sir, only Detchard and Rupert." 

"Where does the duke lodge ?" 

"In the chateau, on the first floor. His apartments 
are on the right as you go- towards the drawbridge." 

"And Madame de Mauban?" 



138 THE PRISONER OF ZENDA 

"Just Opposite, on the left. But her door is locked 
after she has entered." 

"To keep her in?" 

"Doubtless, sir." 

"Perhaps for another reason?" 

"It is possible." 

"And the duke, I suppose, has the key ? " 

"Yes. And the drawbridge is drawn back at night, 
and of that, too, the duke holds the key, so that it 
cannot be run across the moat without application to 
him." 

"And where do you sleep?" 

"In the entrance hall of the chateau^ with five ser- 
vants." 

"Armed?" 

"They have pikes, sir, but no firearms. The duke 
will not trust them with firearms." 

Then at last I took the matter boldly in my hands. 
I had failed once at "Jacob's Ladder"; I should fail 
again there. I must make the attack from the other 
side. 

"I have promised you twenty thousand crowns," 
said I. "You shall have fifty thousand if you will do 
what I ask of you to-morrow night. But, first, do 
those servants know who your prisoner is?" 

"No, sir. They believe him to be some private 
enemy of the duke's." 

"And they would not doubt that I am the King?'* 

"How should they?" he asked. 

"Look to this, then. To-morrow, at two in the 
morning exactly, fling open the front door of the 
chateau. Don't fail by an instant." 

"Shall you be there, sir?" 

"Ask no questions. Do what I tell you. Say the 
hall is close, or what you will. That is all I ask of you." 



THE PRISONER OF ZENDA I39 

"And may I escape by the door, sir, when I have 
opened it ?" 

"Yes, as quick as your legs will carry you. One 
thing more. Carry this note to madame — oh, it's in 
French, you can't read it — and charge her, for the sake 
of all our lives, not to fail in what it orders." 

The man was trembling but I had to trust to what 
he had of courage and to what he had of honesty. I 
dared not wait, for I feared that the King would 
die. 

When the fellow was gone, I called Sapt and Fritz 
to me, and unfolded the plan that I had formed. Sapt 
shook his head over it. 

"Why can't you wait?" he asked. 

"The King may die." 

"Michael will be forced to act before that." 

"Then," said I, "the King may live." 

"Well, and if he does?" 

"For a fortnight?" I asked simply. 

And Sapt bit his moustache. 

Suddenly Fritz von Tarlenheim laid his hand on 
my shoulder. 

"Let us go and make the attempt," said he. 

"I mean you to go — don't be afraid," said I. 

"Ay, but do you stay here, and take care of the 
princess." 

A gleam came into old Sapt's eye. 

"We should have Michael one way or the other then,'* 
he chuckled ; "whereas if you go and are killed with th e 
King, what will become of those of us who are left?" 

"They will serve Queen Flavia," said I, "and I would 
to God I could be one of them." 

A pause followed. Old Sapt broke it by saying 
sadly, yet with an unmeant drollery that set Fritz and 
me laughing: 



140 THE PRISONER OF ZENDA 

"Why didn't old Rudolf the Third marry your— 
great-grandmother, was it?" 

"Come," said I, "it is the King we are thinking 
about." 

"It is true," said Fritz. 

"Moreover," I went on, "I have been an impostor for 
the profit of another, but I will not be one for my own ; 
and if the King is not alive and on his throne before the 
day of betrothal comes, I will tell the truth, come what 
may." 

"You shall go, lad," said Sapt. 

Here is the plan I had made. A strong party under 
Sapt's command was to steal up to the door of the 
chateau. If discovered prematurely, they were to kill 
anyone who found them — with their swords, for I 
wanted no noise of firing. If all went well, they would 
be at the door when Johann opened it. They were to 
rush in and secure the servants if their mere presence 
and the use of the King's name were not enough. At 
the same moment — and on this hinged the plan — a 
woman's cry was to ring out loud and shrill from 
Antoinette de Mauban's chamber. Again and again 
she was to cry : "Help, help ! Michael, help ! " and 
then to utter the name of young Rupert Hentzau. 
Then, as we hoped, Michael, in fury, would rush out 
of his apartm{ nts opposite, and fall alive into the hands 
of Sapt. Still the cries would go on ; and my men would 
let down the drawbridge; and it would be strange if 
Rupert, hearing his name thus taken in vain, did not 
descend from where he slept and seek to cross. De 
Gautet might or might not come with him: that must 
be left to chance. 

And when Rupert set his foot on the drawbridge ? 
There was my part : for I was minded for another swim 
in the moat; and, lest I should grow weary, I had 



THE PRISONER OF ZEND A 141 

resolved to take with me a small wooden ladder, on 
which I could rest my arms in the water — and my feet 
when I left it. I would rear it against the wall just bv 
the bridge; and when the bridge was across, I would 
stealthily creep on to it — and then if Rupert or De 
Gautet crossed in safety, it would be my misfortune, 
not my fault. They dead, two men only would remain; 
and for them we must trust to the confusion we had 
created and to a sudden rush. We should have the 
keys of the door that led to the all-important rooms. 
Perhaps they would rush out. If they stood by their 
orders, then the King's life hung on the swiftness with 
which we could force the outer door; and I thanked 
God that not Rupert Hentzau watched, but Detchard. 
For though Detchard was a cool man, relentless, and 
no coward, he had neither the dash nor the reckless- 
ness of Rupert. Moreover, he, if any one of them, 
really loved Black Michael, and it might be that he 
would leave Bersonin to guard the King, and rush 
across the bridge to take part in the affray on the 
other side. 

So I planned — desperately. And, that our enemy 
might be the better lulled to security, I gave orders 
that our residence should be brilliantly lighted from 
top to bottom, as though we were engaged in revelr}-; 
and should so be kept all night, with music playing 
and people moving to and fro. Strakencz would be 
there, and he was to conceal our departure, if he could, 
from Flavia. And if we came not again by the morning, 
he was to march, openly and in force to the Castle, and 
demand the person of the King ; if Black Michael were 
not there, as I did not think he would be, the marshal 
would take Flavia with him, as swiftly as he could, 
to Strelsau, and there proclaim Black Michael's treach- 
ery and the probable death of the King, and rally 



142 THE PRISONER OF ZENDA 

all that there was honest and true round the banner 
of the princess. And, to say truth, this was what 
I thought most likely to happen. For I had great 
doubts whether either the King or Black Michael 
or I had more than a day to live. Well, if Black 
Michael died, and if I, the play-actor, slew Rupert 
Hentzau with my own hand, and then died myself, 
it might be that Fate would deal as lightly with 
Ruritania as could be hoped, notwithstanding that 
she demanded the life of the King — and to her 
dealing thus with me, I was in no temper to make 
objection. 

It was late when we rose from conference, and I 
betook me to the princess's apartments. She was 
pensive that evening; yet, when I left her, she flung 
Her arms about me and grew, for an instant, bashfully 
radiant as she slipped a ring on my finger. I was 
wearing the King's ring; but I had also on my little 
finger a plain band of gold engraved with the motto 
of our family: "M/ Qvxie Feci'' This I took off and 
put on her, and signed to her to let me go. And she, 
understanding, stood away and watched me with 
dimmed eyes. 

"Wear that ring, even though you wear another when 
you are queen," I said. 

"Whatever else I wear, this I will wear till I die and 
after," said she, as she kissed the ring. 



THE PRISONER OF ZENDA 143 



CHAPTER XVII 

YOUNG RUPERT'S MIDNIGHT 
DIVERSIONS 

The night came fine and clear. I had prayed for 
dirty weather, such as had favoured my previous voyage 
in the moat, but Fortune was this time against me. 
Still I reckoned that by keeping close under the wall 
and in the shadow I could escape detection from the 
windows of the chateau that looked out on the scene 
of my efforts. If they searched the moat, indeed, my 
scheme must fail; but I did not think they would. 
They had made "Jacob's Ladder" secure against attack. 
Johann had himself helped to fix it closely to the 
masonry on the under side, so that it could not now be 
moved from below any more than from above. An 
assault with explosives or a long battering with picks 
alone could displace it, and the noise involved in either 
of these operations put them out of the question. What 
harm, then, could a man do in the moat? I trusted 
that Black Michael, putting this query to himself, 
would answer confidently, "None"; while, even if 
Johann meant treachery, he did not know my scheme, 
and would doubtless expect to see me, at the head of 
my friends, before the front entrance to the chateau. 
There, I said to Sapt, was the real danger, 

"And there," I added, "you shall be. Doesn't that 
content you ?" 

But it did not. Dearly would he have liked to come 
with me, had I not utterly refused to take him. One 
man might escape notice, to double the party more 
than doubled the risk; and when he ventured to hint 
once again that my life was too valuable, I, knowing 



144 THE PRISONER OF ZENDA 

the secret thought he clung to, sternly bade him be 
silent, assuring him that unless the King lived through 
the night, I would not live through it either. 

At twelve o'clock, Sapt's command left the chateau 
of Tarlenheim and struck off to the right, riding by- 
unfrequented roads, and avoiding the town of Zenda. 
If all went well, they would be in front of the Castle by 
about a quarter to two. Leaving their horses half a 
mile off, they were to steal up to the entrance and hold 
themselves in readiness for the opening of the door. 
If the door were not opened by two, they were to send 
Fritz von Tarlenheim round to the other side of the 
Castle. I would meet him there if I were alive, and 
we would consult whether to storm the Castle or not. 
If I were not there, they were to return with all speed 
to Tarlenheim, rouse the Marshal, and march in force 
to Zenda. For if not there, I should be dead; and I 
knew that the King would not be alive five minutes 
after I had ceased to breathe. 

I must now leave Sapt and his friends, and relate 
how I myself proceeded on this eventful night. I 
went out on the good horse which had carried me, on 
the night of the coronation, back from the hunting- 
lodge to Strelsau. I carried a revolver in the saddle 
and my sword. I was covered with a large cloak, and 
under this I wore a warm, tight-fitting woollen jersey, 
a pair of knickerbockers, thick stockings, and light 
canvas shoes. I had rubbed myself thoroughly with 
oil, and I carried a large flask of whisky. The night 
was warm, but I might probably be immersed a long 
while, and it was necessary to take every precaution 
against cold: for cold not only saps a man's courage 
if he has to die, but impairs his energy if others have to 
die, and, finally, gives him rheumatics, if it be God's 
will that he lives. Also I tied round my body a length 



THE PRISONER OF ZENDA 145 

of thin but stout cord, and I did not forget my ladder. 
I, starting after Sapt, took a shorter route, skirting the 
town to the left, and found myself in the outskirts of 
the forest at about halfpast twelve. I tied my horse up 
in a thick clump of trees, leaving the revolver in its 
pocket in the saddle — it would be no use to me, — and, 
ladder in hand, made my way to the edge of the moat. 
Here I unwound my rope from about my waist, bound 
it securely round the trunk of a tree on the bank, and 
let myself down. The Castle clock struck a quarter 
to one as I felt the water under me and began to swim 
round the keep, pushing the ladder before me, and 
hugging the Castle wall. Thus voyaging, I came to 
my old friend, "Jacob's Ladder," and felt the ledge of 
the masonry under me. I crouched down in the 
shadow of the great pipe — I tried to stir it, but it was 
quite immovable — and waited. I remember that my 
predominant feeling was, neither anxiety for the King 
nor longing for Flavia, but an intense desire to smoke ; 
and this craving, of course, I could not gratify. 

The drawbridge was still in its place. I saw its airy, 
slight framework above me, some ten yards to my right, 
as I crouched with my back against the wall of the 
King's cell. I made out a window two yards my side 
of it and nearly on the same level. That, if Johann 
spoke true, must belong to the duke's apartments ; and 
on the other side, in about the same relative position, 
must be Madame de Mauban's window. Women are 
careless, forgetful creatures. I prayed that she might 
not forget that she was to be the victim of a brutal 
attempt at two o'clock precisely. I was rather amused 
at the part I had assigned to my young friend Rupert 
Hentzau ; but I owed him a stroke, — for, even as I sat, 
my shoulder ached where he had, with an audacity 
that seemed half to hide his treachery, struck at me. 



14^ THE PRISONER OF ZENDA 

in the sight of all my friends, on the terrace at Tar^ 
lenheim. 

Suddenly the duke's window grew bright. The 
shutters were not closed, and the interior became 
partially visible to me as I cautiously raised myself 
till I stood on tiptoe. Thus placed, my range of sight 
embraced a yard or more inside the window, while the 
radius of light did not reach me. The window was 
flung open and someone looked out. I marked Antoi- 
nette de Mauban's graceful figure, and, though her 
face was in shadow, the fine outline of her head was 
revealed against the light behind. I longed to cry 
softly, "Remember!" but I dared not — and happily, 
for a moment later a man came up and stood by her. 
He tried to put his arm round her waist, but with a 
swift motion she sprang away and leant against the 
shutter, her profile towards me. I made out who the 
new-comer was: it was young Rupert. A low laugh 
from him made me sure, as he leant forward, stretching 
out his hand towards her. 

"Gently, gently!" I murmured. "You're too soon, 
my boy!" 

His head was close to hers. I suppose he whispered 
to her, for I saw her point to the moat, and I heard her 
say, in slow and distinct tones: 

"I had rather throw myself out of this window!" 

He came close up to the window and looked out. 

"It looks cold," said he. "Come, Antoinette, are 
you serious?" 

She made no answer so far as I heard ; and he smiting 
his hand petulantly on the window-sill, went on, in the 
voice of some spoilt child : 

"Hang Black Michael! Isn't the princess enough 
for him? Is he to have everything? What the devil 
do you see in Black Michael?" 



THE PRISONER OF ZEND A I47 

"If I told him what you say " she began. 

"Well, tell him," said Rupert, carelessly; and, catch- 
ing her off her guard, he sprang forward and kissed 
her, laughing, and crying, "There's something to tell 
him!" 

If I had kept my revolver with me, I should have 
been very sorely tempted. Being spared the tempta- 
tion, I merely added this new score to his account. 

"Though, faith," said Rupert, "it's little he cares. 
He's mad about the princess, you know. He talks of 
nothing but cutting the play-actor's throat." 

Didn't he, indeed ? 

"And if I do it for him, what do you think he's 
promised me.^" 

The unhappy woman raised her hands above her 
head, in prayer or in despair. 

"But I detest waiting," said Rupert; and I saw that 
he was about to lay his hand on her again, when there 
was a noise of a door in the room opening, and a harsh 
voice cried: 

"What are you doing here, sir?" 

Rupert turned his back to the window, bowed low, 
and said, in his loud, merry tones: 

"Apologising for your absence, sir. Could I leave 
the lady alone?" 

The new-comer must be Black Michael. I saw him 
directly, as he advanced towards the window. He 
caught young Rupert by the arm. 

"The moat would hold more than the King!" said 
he, with a significant gesture. 

"Does your Highness threaten me ?" asked Rupert. 

"A threat is more warning than most men get from 
me. 

"Yet," observed Rupert, "Rudolf Rassendyll has been 
much threatened, and yet lives!" 



148 THE PRISONER OF ZENDA 

"Am I in fault because my servants bungle?" asked 
Michael scornfully. 

"Your Highness has run no risk of bungling ! " sneered 
Rupert. 

It was telling the duke that he shirked danger as 
plain as ever I have heard a man told. Black Michael 
had self-control. I daresay he scowled — it was a great 
regret to me that I could not see their faces better, — 
but his voice was even and calm, as he answered: 

"Enough, enough! We mustn't quarrel, Rupert. 
Are Detchard and Bersonin at their posts?" 

"They are, sir." 

"I need you no more." 

"Nay, Fm not oppressed with fatigue," said Rupert. 

"Pray, sir, leave us," said Michael, more impatiently. 
"In ten minutes the drawbridge will be drawn back, 
and I presume you have no wish to swim to your 
bed." 

Rupert's figure disappeared. I heard the door open 
and shut again. Michael and Antoinette de Mauban 
were left together. To my chagrin, the duke laid his 
hand on the window and closed it. He stood talking 
to Antoinette for a moment or two. She shook her 
head, and he turned impatiently away. She left the 
window. The door sounded again, and Black Michael 
closed the shutters. 

"De Gautet, De Gautet, man!" sounded from the 
drawbridge. "Unless you want a bath before your bed, 
come along!" 

It was Rupert's voice, coming from the end of the 
drawbridge. A moment later he and De Gautet stepped 
out on the bridge. Rupert's arm was through De 
Gautet's, and in the middle of the bridge he detained 
his companion and leant over. I dropped behind the 
shelter of "Jacob's Ladder." 



THE PRISONER OF ZENDA I49 

Then Master Rupert had a httle sport. He took 
from De Gautet a bottle which he carried, and put it 
to his Hps. 

"Hardly a drop!" he cried discontentedly, and flung 
it in the moat. 

It fell, as I judged from the sound and the circles 
on the water, within a yard of the pipe. And Rupert, 
taking out his revolver, began to shoot at it. The first 
two shots missed the bottle, but hit the pipe. The 
third shattered the bottle. I hoped that the young 
ruffian would be content; but he emptied the other 
barrels at the pipe, and one, skimming over the pipe, 
whistled through my hair as I crouched on the other 
side. 

" *Ware bridge!" a voice cried, to my relief. 

Rupert and De Gautet cried, "A moment!" and ran 
across. The bridge was drawn back, and all became 
still. The clock struck a quarter-past one. I rose and 
stretched myself and yawned. 

I think some ten minutes had passed when I heard 
a slight noise to my right. I peered over the pipe, and 
saw a dark figure standing in the gateway that led to 
the bridge. It was a man. By the careless, graceful 
poise, I guessed it to be Rupert again. He held a 
sword in his hand, and he stood motionless for a minute 
or two. Wild thoughts ran through me. On what 
mischief was the young fiend bent now? Then he 
laughed low to himself; then he turned his face to the 
wall, took a step in my direction, and, to my surprise, 
began to climb down the wall. In an instant I saw 
that there must be steps in the wall ; it was plain. They 
were cut into or affixed to the wall, at intervals of about 
eighteen inches. Rupert set his foot on the lower one. 
Then he placed his sword between his teeth, turned 
round, and noiselessly let himself down into the water. 



150 THE PRISONER OF ZENDA 

Had it been a matter of my life only, I would have 
swum to meet him. Dearly would I have loved to 
fight it out with him then and there — with steel, on a 
fine night, and none to come between us. But there 
was the King! I restrained myself, but I could not 
bridle my swift breathing, and I watched him with the 
intensest eagerness. 

He swam leisurely and quietly across. There were 
more steps up on the other side, and he climbed 
them. When he set foot in the gateway, standing on 
the drawn-back bridge, he felt in his pocket and took 
something out. I heard him unlock the door. I could 
hear no noise of its closing behind him. He vanished 
from my sight. 

Abandoning my ladder — I saw I did not need it now, 
— I swam to the side of the bridge and climbed half- 
way up the steps. There I hung with my sword in my 
hand, listening eagerly. The duke's room was shut- 
tered and dark. There was a light in the window on 
the opposite side of the bridge. Not a sound broke 
the silence, till half-past one chimed from the great 
clock in the tower of the chateau. 

There were other plots than mine afoot in the Castle 
that night. 



CHAPTER XVni 

THE FORCING OF THE TRAP 

The position wherein I stood does not appear very 
favourable to thought; yet for the next moment or 
two I thought profoundly. I had, I told myself, scored 
one point. Be Rupert Hentzau's errand what it might, 
and the villainy he was engaged on what it would. 



THE PRISONER OF ZENDA I51 

I had scored one point. He was on the other side of 
the moat from the King, and it would be by no fault of 
mine if ever he set foot on the same side again. I had 
three left to deal with: two on guard and De Gautet 
in his bed. Ah, if I had the keys! I would have 
risked ever^^thing and attacked Detchard and Bersonin 
before their friends could join them. But I was powder- 
less. I must wait till the coming of my friends enticed 
someone to cross the bridge — someone with the keys. 
And I waited, as it seemed, for half an hour, really for 
about five minutes, before the next act in the rapid 
drama began. 

All was still on the other side. The duke's room 
remained inscrutable behind its shutters. The light 
burnt steadily in Madame de Mauban's window. Then 
I heard the faintest, faintest sound: it came from 
behind the door which led to the drawbridge on the 
other side of the moat. It but just reached my ear, 
yet I could not be mistaken as to what it was. It was 
made by a key being turned very carefully and slowly. 
Who was turning it? And of what room was it the 
key ? There leapt before my eyes the picture of young 
Rupert, with the key in one hand, his sword in the 
other, and an evil smile on his face. But I did not 
know what door it was, nor on which of his favourite 
pursuits young Rupert was spending the hours of that 
night. 

I was soon to be enlightened, for the next moment 
— before my friends could be near the chateau door — 
before Johann the keeper would have thought to nerve 
himself for his task — there was a sudden crash from 
the room with the lighted window. It sounded as 
though someone had flung down a lamp ; and the 
window went dark and black. At the same instant 
a cry rang out, shrill in the night: "Help, help! 



152 THE PRISONER OF ZENDA 

Michael, help!" and was followed by a shriek of utter 
terror. 

I was tingling in every nerve. I stood on the top most 
step, clinging to the threshold of the gate with my right 
hand and holding my sword in my left. Suddenly I 
perceived that the gateway was broader than the bridge ; 
there was a dark corner on the opposite side where a 
man could stand. I darted across and stood there. 
Thus placed, I commanded the path, and no man 
could pass between the chateau and the old Castle till 
he had tried conclusions with me. 

There was another shriek. Then a door was flung 
open and clanged against the wall, and I heard the 
handle of a door savagely twisted. 

"Open the door ! In God's name, what's the matter ?" 
cried a voice — the voice of Black Michael himself. 

He was answered by the very words I had written in 
my letter. 

"Help, Michael— Hentzau!" 

A fierce oath rang out from the duke, and with a loud 
thud he threw himself against the door. At the same 
moment I heard a window above my head open, and a 
voice cried: "What's the matter?" and I heard a 
man's hasty footsteps. I grasped my sword. If De 
Gautet came my way, the Six would be less by one 
more. 

Then I heard the clash of crossed swords and a tramp 
of feet, and — I cannot tell the thing so quickly as it 
happened, for all seemed to come at once. There was 
an angry cry from madame's room, the cry of a wounded 
man; the window was flung open; young Rupert stood 
there sword in hand. He turned his back, and I saw his 
body go forward to the lunge. 

"Ah, Johann, there's one for you ! Come on, Michael ! " 

Johann was there, then — come to the rescue of the 



THE PRISONER OF ZENDA 153 

duke ! How would he open the door for me ? For I 
feared that Rupert had slain him. 

"Help!" cried the duke's voice, faint and husky. 

I heard a step on the stairs above me ; and I heard a 
stir down to my left, in the direction of the King's cell. 
But, before anything happened on my side of the moat, 
I saw five or six men round young Rupert in the embra- 
sure of madame's window. Three or four times he 
lunged with incomparable dash and dexterity. For an 
instant they fell back, leaving a ring round him. He 
leapt on the parapet of the window, laughing as he leapt, 
and waving his sword in his hand. He was drunk with 
blood, and he laughed again wildly as he flung himself 
headlong into the moat. 

What became of him then ? I did not see : for as he 
leapt, De Gautet's lean face looked out through the door 
by me, and, without a second's hesitation, I struck at 
him with all the strength God had given me, and he fell 
dead in the doorway without a word or a groan. I 
dropped on my knees by him. Where were the keys ? 
I found myself muttering: "The keys, man, the keys?" 
as though he had been yet alive and could listen; and 
when I could not find them, I — God forgive me! — I 
I believe I struck a dead man's face. 

At last I had them. There were but three. Seizing 
the largest, I felt the lock of the door that led to the cell. 
I fitted in the key. It was right. The lock turned. I 
drew the door close behind me and locked it as noise- 
lessly as I could, putting the key in my pocket. 

I found myself at the top of a flight of steep stone 
stairs. An oil-lamp burnt dimly in the bracket. I took 
it down and held it in my hand; and I stood and 
listened. 

"What in the devil can it be?" I heard a voice 
say. 



154 THE PRISONER OF ZENDA 

It came from behind a door that faced me at the 
bottom of the stairs. 

And another answered : 

"Shall we kill him?" 

I strained to hear the answer, and could have sobbed 
with relief when Detchard's voice came grating and cold : 

"Wait a bit. There'll be trouble if we strike too soon." 

There was a moment's silence. Then I heard the bolt 
of the door cautiously drawn back. Instantly I put out 
the light I held, replacing the lamp in the bracket. 

"It's dark — the lamp's out. Have you a light?" said 
the other voice — Bersonin's. 

No doubt they had a light, but they should not use it. 
It was come to the crisis now, and I rushed down the 
steps and flung myself against the door. Bersonin had 
unbolted it and it gave way before me. The Belgian 
stood there sword in hand, and Detchard was sitting on a 
couch at the side of the room. In astonishment at seeing 
me, Bersonin recoiled ; Detchard jumped to his sword. 
I rushed madly at the Belgian : he gave way before me, 
and I drove him up against the wall. He was no swords- 
man, though he fought bravely, and in a moment he lay 
on the floor before me. I turned — Detchard was not 
there. Faithful to his orders, he had not risked a fight 
with me, but had rushed straight to the door of the 
King's room, opened it and slammed it behind him. 
Even now he was at his work inside. 

And surely he would have killed the King, and perhaps 
me also, had it not been for one devoted man who gave 
his life for the King. For when I forced the door, the 
sight I saw was this : the King stood in the corner of 
the room : broken by his sickness, he could do nothing ; 
his fettered hands moved uselessly up and down, and he 
was laughing horribly in half-mad delirium. Detchard 
and the doctor were together in the middle of the room ; 



THE PRISONER OF ZEND A 155 

and the doctor had flung himself on the murderer, 
pinning his hands to his sides for an instant. Then 
Detchard wrenched himself free from the feeble grip, 
and, as I entered, drove his sword through the hapless 
man. 

Then he turned on me, crying : 

"At last!" 

We were sword to sword. By blessed chance, neither 
he nor Bersonin had been wearing their revolvers. I 
found them afterwards, ready loaded, on the mantelpiece 
of the outer room : it was hard by the door, ready to 
their hands, but my sudden rush in had cut off access to 
them. Yes, we were man to man : and we began to fight, 
silently, sternly, and hard. Yet I remember little of it, 
save that the man was my match with the sword — nay, 
and more, for he knew more tricks than I ; and that he 
forced me back against the bars that guarded the entrance 
to "Jacob's Ladder." And I saw a smile on his face, and 
he wounded me in the left arm. 

No glory do I take for that contest. I believe that the 
man would have mastered me and slain me, and then 
done his butcher's work, for he was the most skilful 
swordsman I have ever met ; but even as he pressed me 
hard, the half-mad, wasted, wan creature in the corner 
leapt high in lunatic mirth, shrieking : 

"It's cousin Rudolf! Cousin Rudolf! I'll help you, 
cousin Rudolf!" and catching up a chair in his hands 
(he could but just lift it from the ground and hold it use- 
lessly before him) he came towards us. Hope came to me. 

"Come on ! " I cried. "Come on ! Drive it against his 
legs." 

Detchard replied with a savage thrust. He all but 
had me. 

"Come on! Come on, man!" I cried. "Come and 
share the fun!" 



156 THE PRISONER OF ZENDA 

And the King laughed gleefully, and came on, push- 
ing his chair before him. 

With an oath Detchard skipped back, and, before 1 
knew what he was doing, had turned his sword against 
the King. He made one fierce cut at the King, and 
the King, with a piteous cry, dropped where he stood. 
The stout rufiian turned to face me again. But his 
own hand had prepared his destruction : for in turning 
he trod in the pool of blood that flowed from the dead 
physician. He slipped; he fell. Like a dart I was 
upon him. I caught him by the throat, and before he 
could recover himself I drove my point though his 
neck, and with a stifled curse he fell across the body of 
his victim. 

Was the King dead? It was my first thought. I 
rushed to where he lay. Ay, it seemed as if he were 
dead, for he had a great gash across his forehead, and 
he lay still in a huddled heap on the floor. I dropped 
on my knees beside him, and leant my ear down to 
hear if he breathed. But before I could there was a 
loud rattle from the outside. I knew the sound: the 
drawbridge was being pushed out. A moment later it 
rang home against the wall on my side of the moat. I 
should be caught in a trap and the King with me, if he 
yet lived. He must t^ke his chance, to live or to die. 
I took my sword, and passed into the outer room. 
Who were pushing the drawbridge out — my men ? If 
so, all was well. My eye fell on the revolvers, and I 
seized one ; and paused to listen in the doorway of the 
outer room. To listen, say I? Yes, and to get my 
breath: and I tore my shirt and twisted a strip of it 
round my bleeding arm; and stood listening again. I 
would have given the world to hear Sapt's voice. For 
I was faint, spent, and weary. And that wild-cat 
Rupert Hentzau was yet at large in the Castle. Yet, 



THE PRISONER OF ZENDA 157 

because I could better defend the narrow door at the 
top of the stairs than the wider entrance to the room, 
I dragged myself up the steps, and stood behind it 
listening. 

What was the sound ? Again a strange one for the 
place and the time. An easy, scornful, merry laugh — 
the laugh of young Rupert Hentzau ! I could scarcely 
believe that a sane man would laugh. Yet the laugh 
told me that my men had not come ; for they must have 
shot Rupert ere now% if they had come. And the 
clock struck half-past two ! My God ! The door had 
not been opened ! They had gone to the bank ! They 
had not found me! They had gone by now back to 
Tarlenheim, with the news of the King's death — and 
mine. Well, it would be true before they got there. 
Was not Rupert laughing in triumph ? 

For a moment I sank, unnerved, against the door. 
Then I started up alert again, for Rupert cried scorn- 
fully: 

"Well, the bridge is there ! Come over it ! And in 
God's name, let's see Black Michael. Keep back, you 
curs! Michael, come and fight for her!" 

If it were a three-cornered fight, I might yet bear my 
part. I turned the key in the door and looked out. 



CHAPTER XIX 

FACE TO FACE IN THE FOREST 

For a moment I could see nothing, for the glare of 
lanterns and torches caught me full in the eyes from 
the other side of the bridge. But soon the scene grew 
clear: and it was a strange scene. The bridge was in 
its place. At the far end of it stood a group of the 
duke's servants; two or three carried the lights which 



158 THE PRISONER OF ZENDA 

had dazzled me, three or four held pikes in rest. They 
were huddled together: their weapons were protruded 
before them; their faces were pale and agitated. To 
put it plainly, they looked in as arrant a fright as I have 
seen men look, and they gazed apprehensively at a 
man who stood in the middle of the bridge, sword in 
hand. Rupert Hentzau was in his trousers and shirt; 
the white linen was stained with blood, but his easy, 
buoyant pose told me that he was himself either not 
touched at all or merely scratched. There he stood, 
holding the bridge against them, and daring them to 
come on; or, rather, bidding them send Black Michael 
to him; and they, having no firearms, cowered before 
the desperate man and dared not attack him. They 
whispered to one another ; and in the backmost rank, I 
saw my friend Johann, leaning against the portal of 
the door and stanching with a handkerchief the blood 
v/hich flowed from a wound in his cheek. 

By marvellous chance, I was master. The cravens 
would oppose me no more than they dared attack 
Rupert. I had but to raise my revolver, and I sent 
him to his account with his sins on his head. He did 
not so much as know that I was there. I did nothing 
— why, I hardly know to this day. I had killed one 
man stealthily that night, and another by luck rather 
than skill — perhaps it was that. Again, villain as the 
man was, I did not relish being one of a crowd against 
him — perhaps it was that. But stronger than either of 
these restrained feelings came a curiosity and a fascina- 
tion which held me spellbound, watching for the out- 
come of the scene. 

"Michael, you dog! Michael! If you can stand, 
come on!" cried Rupert; and he advanced a step, the 
group shrinking back a little before him. "Michael, 
you bastard! Come on!" 



THE PRISONER OF ZENDA I59 

The answer to his taunts came in the wild cry of a 
woman : 

"He's dead! My God, he's dead!" 

"Dead!" shouted Rupert. "I struck better than I 
knew!" and he laughed triumphantly. Then he went 
on: "Down with your weapons there! Fm your 
master now! Down with them, I say!" 

I believe they would have obeyed, but as he spoke 
came new things. First, there arose a distant sound, 
as of shouts and knockings from the other side of the 
chateau. My heart leapt. It must be my men, come 
by a happy disobedience to seek me. The noise con- 
tinued, but none of the rest seemed to heed it. Their 
attention was chained by what now happened before 
their eyes. The group of servants parted and a woman 
staggered on to the bridge. Antoinette de Mauban was 
in a loose white robe, her dark hair streamed over her 
shoulders, her face was ghastly pale, and her eyes 
gleamed wildly in the light of the torches. In her 
shaking hand she held a revolver, and, as she tottered 
forward, she fired it at Rupert Hentzau. The ball 
missed him, and struck the woodwork over my head. 

"Faith, madame," laughed Rupert, "had your eyes 
been no more deadly than your shooting, I had not 
been in this scrape — nor Black Michael in hell — 
to-night!" 

She took no notice of his words. With a wonderful 
effort, she calmed herself till she stood still and rigid. 
Then very slowly and deliberately she began to raise 
her arm again, taking most careful aim. 

He would be mad to risk it. He must rush on her, 
chancing the bullet, or retreat towards me. I covered 
him with my weapon. 

He did neither. Before she had got her aim, he 
bowed in his most graceful fashion, cried "I can't kill 

F 



l6o THE PRISONER OF ZENDA 

where Fve kissed," and before she or I could stop him, 
laid his hand on the parapet of the bridge, and lightly 
leapt into the moat. 

At that very moment I heard a rush of feet, and a 
voice I knew — Sapt's — cry: "God! it's the duke — 
dead ! " Then I knew that the King needed me no 
more, and, throwing down my revolver, I sprang out 
on the bridge. There was a cry of w ild wonder, "The 
King!" and then I, like Rupert Hentzau, sword in 
hand, vaulted over the parapet, intent on finishing 
my quarrel with him where I saw his curly head fifteen 
yards off in the water of the moat. 

He swam swiftly and easily. I was weary and half- 
crippled with my wounded arm. I could not gain on 
him. For a time I made no sound, but as we rounded 
the corner of the old keep I cried: 

"Stop, Rupert, stop!" 

I saw him look over his shoulder, but he swam on. 
He was under the bank now, searching, as I guessed, 
for a spot that he could climb. I knew there to be 
none — but there was my rope, which would still be 
hanging where I had left it. He would come to where 
it was before I could. Perhaps he would miss it — 
perhaps he would find it ; and if he drew it up after him, 
he would get a good start of me. I put forth all my 
remaining strength and pressed on. At last I began 
to gain on him; for he, occupied with his search, un- 
consciously slackened his pace. 

Ah, he had found it ! A low shout of triumph came 
from him. He laid hold of it and began to haul him- 
self up. I was near enough to hcr.r him mutter : "How 
the devil comes this here?" I was at the rope, and 
he, hanging in mid-air, saw me, but I could not reach 
him. 

"Hullo! who's h».re?" he cried in startled tones. 



TKE PRISONER OF ZEN DA l6l 

For a moment, I believe, he took me for the King 
— I daresay I was pale enough to lend colour to the 
thought; but an instant later he cried: 

"Why it's the play-actor! How came you here, 
man ?" 

And so saying he gained the bank. 

I laid hold of the rope, but I paused. He stood on 
the bank, sword in hand, and he could cut my head 
open or spit me through the heart as I came up. I let 
go the rope. 

"Never mind," said I ; "but as I am here, I think 
I'll stay." 

He smiled down on me. 

"These women are the deuce " he began; when 

suddenly the great bell of the Castle started to ring 
furiously, and a loud shout reached us from the moat. 

Rupert smiled again, and waved his hand to me. 

"I should like a turn with you, but it's a little too 
hot!" said he, and he disappeared from above me. 

In an instant, without thinking of danger, I laid my 
hand to the rope. I was up. I saw him thirty yards 
off, running like a deer towards the shelter of the 
forest. For once Rupert Hentzau had chosen dis- 
cretion for his part. I laid my feet to the ground and 
rushed after him, calling to him to stand. He would 
not. Unwounded and vigorous, he gained on me at 
every step; but, forgetting everything in the world 
except him and my thirst for his blood, I pressed on, 
and soon the deep shades of the forest of Zenda engulfed 
us both, pursued and pursuer. 

It was three o'clock now, and day was dawning. 1 
was on a long straight grass avenue, and a hundred 
yards ahead ran young Rupert, his curls waving in the 
fresh breeze. I was weary and panting ; he looked over 
his shoulder and waved his hand again to me. He 



l62 THE PRISONER OF ZENDA 

was mocking me, for he saw he had the pace of me. 
I was forced to pause for breath. A moment later, 
Rupert turned sharply to the right and was lost from 
my sight. 

I thought all was over, and in deep vexation sank 
on the ground. But I was up again directly, for a 
scream rang through the forest — a woman's scream. 
Putting forth the last of my strength, I ran on to the 
place where he had turned out of my sight, and, turning 
also, I saw him again. But alas! I could not touch 
him. He was in the act of lifting a girl down from her 
horse; doubtless it was her scream that I heard. She 
looked like a small farmer's or a peasant's daughter, 
and she carried a basket on her arm. Probably she was 
on her way to the early market at Zenda. Her horse 
was a stout, well shaped animal. Master Rupert lifted 
her down amid her shrieks — the sight of him frightened 
her; but he treated her gently, laughed, kissed her, 
and gave her money. Then he jumped on the horse, 
sitting sideways like a woman; and then he waited for 
me. I, on my part, waited for him. 

Presently he rode towards me, keeping his distance, 
however. He lifted up his hand, saying : 

"What did you in the Castle?" 

"I killed three of your friends," said I. 

"What! You got to the cells?" 

"Yes." 

"And the King?'* 

"He was hurt by Detchard before I killed Detchard, 
but I pray that he lives." 

"You fool!" said Rupert, pleasantly. 

"One thing more I did." 

"And what's that?" 

"I spared your life. I was behind you on the bridge, 
with a revolver in my hand." 



THE PRISONER OF ZEND A 163 

"No? Faith, I was between two fires!'' 
"Get off your horse," I cried, "and fight Hke a man.'* 
"Before a lady!" said he, pointing to the girl. "Fie, 
your Majesty!" 

Then in my rage, hardly knowing what I did, I 
rushed at him. For a moment he seemed to waver. 
Then he reined his horse in and stood waiting for me. 
On I went in my folly. I seized the bridle and I struck 
at him. He parried and thrust at me. I fell back a 
pace and rushed in at him again ; and this time I reached 
his face and laid his cheek open, and darted back almost 
before he could strike me. He seemed almost mazed at the 
fierceness of my attack ; otherwise I think he must have 
killed me. I sank on my knee panting, expecting him 
to ride at me. And so he would have done, and then 
and there, I d 3ubt not, one or both of us would have 
died; but at the moment there came a shout from 
behind us, and, looking round, I saw, just at the turn 
of the avenue, a man on a horse. He was riding hard, 
and he carried a revolver in his hand. It was Fritz von 
Tarlenheim, my faithful friend. Rupert saw him, and 
knew that the game was up. He checked his rush at 
me and flung his leg over the saddle, but yet for just 
a moment he waited. Leaning forward, he tossed his 
hair off his forehead and smiled, and said: 
*'Au revoivy Rudolf Rassendyll!" 
Then, with his cheek, streaming blood, but his lips 
laughing and his body swaying with ease and grace, 
he bowed to me; and he bowed to the farm-girl, who 
had drawn near in trembling fascination, and he waved 
his hand to Fritz, who was just within range and let fly 
a shot at him. The ball came nigh doing its work, for 
it struck the sword he held, and he dropped the sword 
with an oath, wringing his fingers and clapped his 
heels hard on his horse's belly, and rode away at a gallop. 



164 THE PRISONER OF ZEN DA 

And I watched him go down the long avenue, riding 
as though he rode for his pleasure and singing as he 
went, for all there was that gash in his cheek. 

Once again he turned to wave his hand, and then the 
gloom of the thickets swallowed him and he was lost 
from our sight. Thus he vanished — reckless and wary, 
graceful and graceless, handsome, debonair, vile, and 
unconquered. And I flung mxy sword passionately on 
the ground and cried to Fritz to ride after him. But 
Fritz stopped his horse, and leapt down and ran to me, 
and knelt, putting his arm about me. And indeed it 
was time for the wound that Detchard had given me 
was broken forth afresh, and my blood was staining the 
ground. 

"Then give me the horse ! " I cried, staggering to my 
feet and throwing his arms off me. And the strength of 
my rage carried me so far as where the horse stood, and 
then I fell prone beside it. And Fritz knelt by me 
again. 

"Fritz!" I said. 

"Ay, friend — dear friend!" he said, tender as a 
woman. 

"Is the King alive?" 

He took his handkerchief and wiped my lips, and 
bent and kissed me on the forehead. 

"Thanks to the most gallant gentleman that lives," 
said he softly, "the King is alive!" 

The little farm-girl stood by us, weeping for fright 
and wide-eyed for wonder; for she had seen me at 
Zenda: and was not I, pallid, dripping, foul, and 
bloody as I was — yet was not I the King ? 

And when I heard that the King was alive, I strove 
to cry "Hurrah !" But I could not speak, and I laid my 
head back in Fritz's arms and closed my eyes, and I 
groaned; and then, lest Fritz should do me wrong in 



THE PRISONER OF ZEND A 165 

his thoughts, I opened my eyes and tried to say 
"Hurrah!" again. But I could not. And being very 
tired, and now very cold, I huddled myself close up to 
Fritz, to get the warmth of him, and shut my eyes again 
and went to sleep. 



CHAPTER XX 

THE PRISONER AND THE KING 

In order to a full understanding of what had occurred in 
the Castle of Zenda, it is necessary to supplement my 
account of what I myself saw and did on that night by 
relating briefly what I afterwards learnt from Fritz and 
Madame de Mauban. The story told by the latter 
explained clearly how it happened that the cry which I 
had arranged as a stratagem and a sham had come, in 
dreadful reality, before its time, and had thus, as it 
seemed at the moment, ruined our hopes, while in the end 
it had favoured them. The unhappy woman, fired, I 
believe by a genuine attachment to the Duke of Strelsau, 
no less than by the dazzling prospects which a dominion 
over him opened before her eyes, had followed him at his 
request from Paris to Ruritania. He was a man of strong 
passions, but of stronger will, and his cool head ruled 
both. He was content to take all and give nothing. 
When she arrived, she was not long in finding that she 
had a rival in the Princess Flavia ; rendered desperate, 
she stood at nothing which might give, or keep for her, 
her power over the duke. As I say, he took and gave not. 
Simultaneously, Antionette found herself entangled in 
hi? audacious schemes. Unwilling to abandon him, 
bound to him by the chains of shame and hope, yet she 
would not be a decoy, nor, at his bidding, lure me to 
death. Hence the letters of warning she had written. 



l66 THE PRISONER OF ZENDA 

Whether the Unes she sent to Flavia were inspired 
by good or bad feeling, by jealousy or by pity, I 
do not know ; but here also she served us well. When 
the duke went to Zenda, she accompanied him ; and here 
for the first time she learnt the full measure of his 
cruelty, and was touched with compassion for the unfor- 
tunate King. From this time she was with us ; yet, from 
what she told me, I know that she still (as women will) 
loved Michael, and trusted to gain his life, if not his 
pardon, from the King, as the reward for her assistance. 
His triumph she did not desire, for she loathed his crime, 
and loathed yet more fiercely what would be the prize of 
it — his marriage with his cousin, Princess Flavia. 

At Zenda new forces came into play — the lust and 
daring of young Rupert. He was caught by her beauty, 
perhaps ; perhaps it was enough for him that she belonged 
to another man, and that she hated him. For many days 
there had been quarrels and ill-will between him and the 
duke, and the scene which I had witnessed in the duke's 
room was but one of many. Rupert's proposals to me, of 
which she had, of course, been ignorant, in no way 
surprised her when I related them; she had herself 
warned Michael against Rupert, even when she was 
calling on me to deliver her from both of them. On this 
night, then, Rupert had determined to have his will. 
When she had gone to her room, he, having furnished 
himself with a key to it, had made his entrance. Her 
cries had brought the duke, and there in the dark room, 
while she screamed, the men had fought; and Rupert, 
having wounded his master with a mortal blow, had, on 
the servants rushing in, escaped through the window as 
I have described. The duke's blood, spurting out, had 
stained his opponent's shirt; but Rupert, not knowing 
that he had dealt Michael his death, was eager to finish 
the encounter. How he meant to deal with the other 



THE PRISONER OF ZEND A 167 

three of the band, I know not. I daresay he did not 
tliink, for the killing of Michael was not premeditated. 
Antoinette, left along with the duke, had tried to stanch 
his wound, and thus was she busied till he died ; and then, 
hearing Rupert's taunts, she had come forth to avenge 
him. Me she had not seen, nor did she till I darted 
out of my ambush, and leapt after Rupert into the 
moat. 

The same moment found my friends on the scene. 
They had reached the chateau in due time, and waited 
ready by the door. But Johann, swept with the rest to 
the rescue of the duke, did not open it ; nay, he took a 
part against Rupert, putting himself forward more 
bravely than any in his anxiety to avert suspicion; and 
he had received a wound, in the embrasure of the window. 
Till nearly half-past two Sapt waited; then, following 
my orders, he had sent Fritz to search the banks of the 
moat. I was not there. Hastening back, Fritz told Sapt ; 
and Sapt was for following orders still, and riding at full 
speed back to Tarlenheim ; while Fritz would not hear 
of abandoning me, let me have ordered what I would. 
On this they disputed some few minutes; then Sapt, 
persuaded by Fritz, detached a party under Bernenstein 
to gallop back to Tarlenheim and bring up the marshal, 
while the rest fell to on the great door of the chdtaeii. 
For several minutes it resisted them; then, just as 
Antoinette de Mauban fired at Rupert Hentzau on the 
bridge, they broke in, eight of them in all : and the first 
door they came to was the door of Michael's room ; and 
Michael lay dead across the threshold, with a sword- 
thrust through his breast. Sapt cried out at his death, as 
I had heard, and they rushed on the servants ; but these, 
in fear, dropped their weapons, and Antoinette flung 
herself weeping at Sapt's feet. And all she cried was, 
that I had been at the end of the bridge and had leapt off. 



l68 THE PRISONER OF ZENDA 

"What of the prisoner?" asked Sapt ; but she shook her 
head. Then Sapt and Fritz, with the gentlemen behind 
them, crossed the bridge, slowly, warily, and without 
noise ; and Fritz stumbled over the body of De Gautet in 
the way of the door. The felt him and found him dead. 
Then they consulted, listening eagerly for any sound 
from the cells below; but there came none, and they 
were greatly afraid that the King's guards had killed 
him, and having pushed his body through the great 
pipe, had escaped the same way themselves. Yet, 
because I had been seen here, they had still some hope 
(thus indeed Fritz, in his friendship, told me); 
and going back to Michael's body, pushing aside 
Antoinette, who prayed by it, they found a key to the 
door which I had locked, and opened the door. Ihe 
staircase was dark, and they would not use a torch at 
first, lest they should be the more exposed to fire. But 
soon Fritz cried : "The door down there is open ! See, 
there is light ! So they went on boldly, and found none 
to oppose them. And when they came to the outer 
room and saw the Belgian, Bersonin, lying dead, they 
thanked God, Sapt saying: "Ay, he has been here." 
Then rushing into the King's cell, they found Detchard 
lying dead across the dead physician, and the King on 
his back with his chair by him. And Fritz cried : "He's 
dead!" and Sapt drove all out of the room except 
Fritz, and knelt down by the King; and, having learnt 
more of wounds and the sign of death than I, he soon 
knew that the King was not dead, nor, if properly 
attended, would die. And they covered his face and 
carried him to Duke Michael's room, and laid him 
there; and Antoinette rose from praying by the body 
of the duke and went to bathe the King's head and 
dress his wounds, till a doctor came. And Sapt, seeing 
I had been there, and having heard Antoinette's story. 



THE PRISONER OF ZENDA 169 

sent Fritz to search the moat and then the forest. He 
dared send no one else. And Fritz found my horse, 
and feared the worst. Then, as I have told, he found 
me, guided by the shout with which I had called on 
Rupert to stop and face me. And I think a man has 
never been more glad to find his own brother alive 
than was Fritz to come on me; so that, in love and 
anxiety for me, he thought nothing of a thing so great 
as would have been the death of Rupert Hentzau. 
Yet, had Fritz killed him, I should have grudged it. 

The enterprise of the King's rescue being thus pros- 
perously concluded, it lay on Colonel Sapt to secure 
secrecy as to the King ever having been in need of 
rescue. Antoinette de Mauban and Johann the keeper 
(who, indeed, was too much hurt to be wagging his 
tongue just now) were sworn to reveal nothing; and 
Fritz went forth to find — not the King, but the un- 
named friend of the King, who had lain in Zenda and 
flashed for a moment before the dazed eyes of Duke 
Michael's servants on the drawbridge. The metamor- 
phosis had happened; and the King, wounded almost 
to death by the attacks of the gaolers who guarded his 
friend, had at last overcome them, and rested now, 
wounded but alive, in Black Michael's own room in the 
Castle. There he had been carried, his face covered 
with a cloak, from the cell; and thence orders issued, 
that if his friend were found, he should be brought 
directly and privately to the King, and that meanwhile 
messengers should ride at full speed to Tarlenheim, to 
tell Marshal Strakencz to assure the princess of the 
King's safety, and to come himself with all speed to 
greet the King. The princess was enjoined to remain 
at Tarlenheim, and there await her cousin's coming or 
his further injunctions. Thus the King would come 
to his own again, having wrought brave deeds, and 



lyO THE PRISONER OF ZENDA 

escaped, almost by a miracle, the treacherous assault 
of his unnatural brother. 

This ingenious arrangement of my long-headed old 
friend prospered in every way, save where it encoun- 
tered a force that often defeats the most cunning 
schemes. I mean nothing else than the pleasure of a 
woman. For, let her cousin and sovereign send what 
command he chose (or Colonel Sapt chose for him), 
and let Marshal Strakencz insist as he would, the 
Princess Flavia was in no way minded to rest at Tar- 
lenheim while her lover lay wounded at Zenda; and 
when the marshal, with a small suite, rode forth from 
Tarlenheim on the way to Zenda, the princess's carriage 
followed immediately behind, and in this order they 
passed through the town, where the report was already 
rife that the King, going the night before to remon- 
strate with his brother, in all friendliness, for that he 
held one of the King's friends in confinement in the 
Cactle, had been most traitorously set upon ; that there 
had been a desperate conflict; that the duke was slain 
with several of his gentlemen; and that the King, 
wounded as he was, had seized and held the Castle of 
Zenda. All of which talk made, as may be supposed, 
a mighty excitement : and the wires were set in motion, 
and the tidings came to Strelsau only just after orders 
had been sent thither to parade the troops and overawe 
the dissatisfied quarters of the town with a display 
of force. 

Thus the Princess Flavia came to Zenda. And as 
she drove up the hill, with the marshal riding by the 
wheel and still imploring her to return in obedience to 
the King's orders, Fritz von Tarlenheim, with the 
prisoner of Zenda, came to the edge of the forest. I 
had revived from my swoon, and walked, resting on 
Fritz's arm; and looking out from the cover of the 



THE PRISONER OF ZEND A 171 

trees, I saw the princess. Suddenly understanding 
from a glance at my companion's face that we must 
not meet her, I sank on my knees behind a clump of 
bushes. But there was one whom we had forgotten, 
but who followed us, and was not disposed to let slip 
the chance of earning a smile and maybe a crown or 
two; and, while we lay hidden, the little farm-girl 
came by us and ran to the princess, curtseying and 
crying : 

"Madame, the King is here — in the bushes ! May I 
guide you to him, madame?" 

"Nonsense, child!" said old Strakencz; "the King 
lies w^ounded in the Castle." 

"Yes, sir, he's wounded, I know; but he's tiere — 
with Count Fritz — and not at the Castle," she persisted. 

"Is he in two places, or are there two Kings?" asked 
Flavia, bewildered. "And how should he be here?" 

"He pursued a gentleman, madame, and they fought 
till Count Fritz came; and the other gentleman took 
my father's horse from me and rode away ; but the King 
is here with Count Fritz. Why, madame, is there 
another man in Ruritania like the King?" 

"No, my child," said Flavia softly (I was told it 
afterwards), and she smiled and gave the girl money. 
"I will go and see this gentleman," and she rose to 
alight from the carriage. 

But at this momxcnt Sapt came riding from the 
Castle, and, seeing the princess, made the best of a 
bad job, and cried to her that the King was well tended 
and in no danger. 

"In the Castle?" she asked. 

"Where else, madame?" said he, bowing. 

"But this girl says he is yonder — with Count Fritz." 

Sapt turned his eyes on the child with an incredulous 
smile. 



172 THE PRISONER OF ZEN DA 

"Every fine gentleman is a King to such," said he. 

"Why, he's as hke the King as one pea to another, 
madame !" cried the girl, a little shaken but still obstinate. 

Sapt started round. The old marshal's face asked 
unspoken questions. Flavia's glance was no less 
eloquent. Suspicion spreads quick. 

"I'll ride myself and see this man," said Sapt, hastily. 

"Nay, I'll come myself," said the princess. 

"Then come alone," he whispered. 

And she, obedient to the strange hinting in his face, 
prayed the marshal and the rest to wait; and she and 
Sapt came on foot towards where we lay, Sapt waving 
to the farm-girl to keep at a distance. And when I 
saw them coming, I sat in a sad heap on the ground, 
and buried my face in my hands. I could not look 
at her. Fritz knelt by me, laying his hand on my 
shoulder. 

"Speak low, whatever you say," I heard Sapt whisper 
as they came up ; and the next thing I heard was a low 
cry — half of joy, half of fear — from the princess: 

"It is he! Are you hurt?" 

And she fell on the ground by me, and gently 
pulled my hands away; but I kept my eyes to the 
ground. 

"It is the King!" she said. "Pray, Colonel Sapt, tell 
me where lay the wit of the joke you played on me ?" 

We answered none of us : we three were silent before 
her. Regardless of them, she threw her arms round 
my neck and kissed me. Then Sapt spoke in a low 
hoarse whisper: 

"It is not the King. Don't kiss him; he's not the 
King." 

She drew back for a moment ; then, with an arm still 
round my neck, she asked, in superb indignation: 

"Do I not know my love? Rudolf, my love!" 



THE PRISONER OF ZENDA 173 

"It is not the King," said old Sapt again; and a 
sudden sob broke from tender-hearted Fritz. 

It was the sob that told her no comedy was afoot. 

"He is the King!" she cried. "It is the King's face 
— the King's ring — my ring! It is my love!" 

"Your love, madame," said old Sapt, "but not the 
King. The King is there in the Castle. This gentle- 
man " 

"Look at me, Rudolf! look at me!" she cried, taking 
my face between her hands. "Why do you let them 
torment me? Tell me what it means!" 

Then I spoke, gazing into her eyes. 

"God forgive me, madame!" I said. "I am not the 
King!" 

I felt her hands clutch my cheeks. She gazed at me 
as never man's face was scanned yet. And I, silent 
again, saw wonder born, and doubt grow, and terror 
spring to life as she looked. And very gradually the 
grasp of her hands slackened: she turned to Sapt, to 
Fritz, and back to me : then suddenly she reeled forward 
and fell in my arms; and with a great cry of pain I 
gathered her to me and kissed her lips. Sapt laid his 
hand on my arm. I looked up in his face. And I laid 
her softly on the ground, and stood up, looking on her, 
cursing heaven that young Rupert's sword had spared 
me for this sharper pang. 



CHAPTER XXI 

IF LOVE WERE ALL! 

It was night, and I was in the cell wherein the King 
had lain in the Castle of Zenda. The great pipe that 
Pvupert of Hentzau had nicknamed "Jacob's Ladder" 
was gone, and the lights in the room across the moat 



174 THE PRISONER OF ZENDA 

twinkled in the darkness. All was still; the din and 
clash of strife were gone. 1 had spent the day hidden 
in the forest, from the time when Fritz had led me off, 
leaving Sapt with the princess. Under cover of dusk, 
muffled up, I had been brought to the Castle and lodged 
where 1 now lay. Though three men had died there — 
two of them by my hand — I was not troubled by ghosts. 
I had thrown myself on a pallet by the window, and was 
looking out on the black water; Johann, the keeper, 
still pale from his wound, but not much hurt besides, 
had brought me supper. He told me that the King 
was doing well, that he had seen the princess ; that she 
and he, Sapt and Fritz, had been long together. 
Marshal Strakencz was gone to Strelsau ; Black Michael 
lay in his coffin, and Antoinette de Mauban watched 
by him ; had I not heard, from the chapel, priests sing- 
ing mass for him? 

Outside there were strange rumours afloat. Some 
said that the prisoner of Zenda was dead; some, that 
he had vanished yet alive; some, that he was a friend 
who had served the King well in some adventure in 
England; others, that he had discovered the duke's 
plots, and had therefore been kidnapped by him. One 
or two shrewd fellows shook their heads and said only 
that they would say nothing, but they had suspicions 
that more was to be known than was known, if Colonel 
Sapt would tell all he knew. 

Thus Johann chattered till I sent him away and lay 
there alone, thinking, not of the future, but — as a man 
is wont to do when stirring things have happened to 
him — rehearsing the events of the past wrecks, and 
wondering how strangely they had fallen out. And 
above me, in the stillness of the night, I heard the 
standards flapping against their poles, for Black 
Michael's banner hung there half-mast high, and above 



THE PRISONER OF ZENDA I75 

it the roval flag of Ruritania, floating for one night more 
over my head. Habit grows so quick, that only 
by an effort did I recollect that it floated no longer 
for me. 

Presently Fritz von Tarlenheim came into the room. 
I was standing then by the window; the glass was 
opened, and I was idly fingering the cement which 
clung to the masonry where "Jacob's Ladder" had been. 
He told me briefly that the King wanted me, and to- 
gether we crossed the drawbridge and entered the 
room that had been Black Michael's. 

The King was lying there in bed; our doctor from 
Tarlenheim was in attendance on him, and whispered to 
me that my visit must be brief. The King held out his 
hand and shook mine. Fritz and the doctor withdrew 
to the window. 

I took the King's ring from my finger and placed it 
on his. 

"I have tried not to dishonour it, sire," said I. 

"I can't talk miuch to you," he said, in a weak voice. 
"I have had a great fight with Sapt and the marshal — 
for we have told the marshal everything. I wanted to 
take you to Strelsau and keep you with me, and tell 
everyone of what you had done ; and you would have 
been my best and nearest friend, Cousin Rudolf. But 
they tell me I must not, and that the secret must be 
kept — if kept it can be." 

"They are right, sire. Let me go. My work here is 
done." 

"Yes, it is done, as no man but you could have done 
it. When they see me again, I shall have my beard on ; 
I shall — yes, faith, I shall be wasted with sickness. They 
will not wonder that the King looks changed in face. 
Cousin, I shall try to let them find him changed in 
nothing else. You have shown me how to play the King." 



176 THE PRISONER OF ZENDA 

"Sire," said I, "I can take no praise from you. It is 
by the narrowest grace of God that I was not a worse 
traitor than your brother." 

He turned inquiring eyes on me; but a sick man 
shrinks from puzzles, and he had no strength to question 
me. His glance fell on Flavia's ring, which I wore. I 
thought he would question me about it; but, after 
fingering it idly, he let his head fall on his pillow. 

"I don't know when I shall see you again," he said 
faintly, almost listlessly. 

"If I can ever serve you again, sire," I answered. 

His eyelids closed. Fritz came with the doctor. I 
kissed the King's hand, and let Fritz lead me away. 
I have never seen the King since. 

Outside, Fritz turned, not to the right, back towards 
the drawbridge, but to the left, and without speaking 
led me upstairs, through a handsome corridor in the 
chateau. 

"Where are we going ?" I asked. 

Looking away from me, Fritz answered : 

"She has sent for you. When it is over, come back 
to the bridge. I'll wait for you there." 

"What does she want?" said I, breathing quickly. 

He shook his head. 

"Does she know everything?'* 

"Yes, everything. 

He opened a door, and gently pushing me in, closed 
it behind me. I found myself in a drawing-room, small 
and richly furnished. At first I thought that I was alone, 
for the light that came from a pair of shaded candles 
on the mantelpiece was very dim. But presently I dis- 
cerned a woman's figure standing by the window. I 
knew it was the princess, and I walked up to her, fell 
on one knee, and carried the hand that hung by her 
side to my lips. She neither moved nor spoke. I rose 



THE PRISONER OF ZENDA 177 

to my feet, and, piercing the gloom with my eager eyes, 
saw her pale face and the gleam of her hair, and before 
I knew, I spoke softly: 

"Flavia!" 

She trembled a little, and looked round. Then she 
darted to me, taking hold of me. 

"Don't stand, don't stand ! No, you mustn't ! You're 
hurt! Sit down — here, here!" 

She made me sit on a sofa, and put her hand on my 
forehead. 

"How hot your head is," she said, sinking on her 
knees by me. Then she laid her head against me, and 
I heard her murmur: "My darling, how hot your 
head is!" 

Somehow love gives even to a dull man the know- 
ledge of his lover's heart. I had come to humble myself 
and pray pardon for my presumption ; but what I said 
now was : 

"I love you with all my heart and soul !" 

For what troubled and shamed her? Not her love 
for me, but the fear that I had counterfeited the lover 
as I had acted the King, and taken her kisses with a 
smothered smile. 

"With all my life and heart," said I, as she clung to 
me. "Always, from the first moment I saw you in the 
Cathedral ! There has been but one woman in the world 
to me — and there will be no other. But God forgive me 
the wrong I've done you !" 

"They made you do it!" she said quickly; and she 
added, raising her head and looking in my eyes; "It 
might have made no difference if I'd known it. It was 
always you, never the King!" 

"I meant to tell you," said I. "I was going to on the 
night of the ball in Strelsau, when Sapt interrupted me. 
After that, I couldn't — I couldn't risk losing you before 



lyS THE PRISONER OF ZENDA 

— before — I must! My darling, for you I nearly left 
the King to die!" 

"I know, I know! What are we to do now, Rudolf?" 

I put my arm round her and held her up while I 
said: 

"I am going away to-night." 

"Ah, no, no !" she cried. "Not to-night !" 

"I must go to-night, before more people have seen 
me. And how would you have me stay, sweetheart, 
except ?" 

"If I could come with you !" she whispered very low. 

"My God!" said I roughly, "don't talk about that!" 
and I thrust her a little back from me. 

"Why not ? I love you. You are as good a gentleman 
as the King!" 

Then I was false to all that I should have held by. 
For I caught her in my arms and prayed her, in words 
that I will not write, to come with me, daring all 
Ruritania to take her from me. And for a while she 
listened, with wondering, dazzled eyes. But as her eyes 
looked on me, I grew ashamed, and my voice died away 
in broken murmurs and stammerings, and at last I was 
silent. 

She drew herself away from me and stood against the 
wall, while I sat on the edge of the sofa, trembling in 
every limb, knowing what I had done — loathing it, 
obstinate not to undo it. So we rested a long time. 

"I am mad!" I said sullenly. 

"I love your madness, dear," she answered. 

Her face was away from me, but I caught the sparkle 
of a tear on her cheek. I clutched the sofa with my 
hand and held myself there. 

"Is love the only thing?" she asked, in low, sweet 
tones that seemed to bring a calm even to my wrung 
heart. "If love were the only thing, I would follow you 



THE PRISONER OF ZENDA 179 

— in rags, if need be — to the world's end ; for you hold 
my heart in the hollow of your hand ! But is love the 
only thing?" 

I made no answer. It gives me shame now to think 
that I would not help her. 

She came near me and laid her hand on my shoulder. 
I put my hand up and held hers. 

"I know people write and talk as if it were. Perhaps, 
for some, Fate lets it be. Ah, if I were one of them ! 
But if love had been the only thing, you would have 
let the King die in his cell." 

I kissed her hand. 

"Honour binds a woman too, Rudolf. My honour lies 
in being true to my country and my House. I don't 
know why God has let me love you ; but I know that 
I must stay." 

Still I said nothing; and she, pausing a while, then 
went on : 

"Your ring will always be on my finger, your heart 
in my heart, the touch of your lips on mine. But you 
must go and I must stay. Perhaps I must do what it 
kills me to think of doing." 

I knew what she meant, and a shiver ran through me. 
But I could not utterly fail beside her. I rose and took 
her hand. 

"Do what you will, or what you must," I said. "I 
think God shows His purposes to such as you. My part 
is lighter ; for your ring shall be on my finger and your 
heart in mine, and no touch save of your lips will ever 
be on mine. So, may God comfort you, my darling!" 

There struck on our ears the sound of singing. The 
priests in the chapel were singing masses for the souls 
of those who lay dead. They seemed to chant a requiem 
over our buried joy, to pray forgiveness for our love 
that would not die. The soft, sweet, pitiful music rose 



l80 THE PRISONER OF ZENDA 

and fell as we stood opposite one another, her hands in 
mine. 

"My queen and my beauty!" said I. 

"My lover and true knight!" she said. "Perhaps we 
shall never see one another again. Kiss me, my dear, 
and go!" 

I kissed her as she bade me ; but at the last she clung 
to me, whispering nothing but my name, and that over 
and over again — and again — and again; and then I left 
her. 

Rapidly I walked down to the bridge. Sapt and Fritz 
were waiting for me. Under their directions I changed 
my dress, and muffling my face, as I had done more 
than once before, I mounted with them at the door of 
the Castle, and we three rode through the night and on 
to the breaking day, and found ourselves at a little road- 
side station just over the border of Ruritania. The train 
was not quite due, and I walked with them in a meadow 
by a little brook while we waited for it. They promised 
to send me all news ; they overwhelmed me with kind- 
ness — even old Sapt was touched to gentleness, while 
Fritz was half-unmanned. I listened in a kind of dream 
to all they said. "Rudolf! Rudolf! Rudolf!" still rang in 
my ears — a burden of sorrow and of love. At last they 
saw that I could not heed them, and we walked up and 
down in silence, till Fritz touched me on the arm, and 
I saw, a mile or more away, the blue smoke of the train. 
Then I held out a hand to each of them. 

"We are all but half-men this morning," said I, 
smiling. "But we have been men, eh, Sapt and Fritz, 
old friends ? We have run a good course between us." 

"We have defeated traitors and set the King firm on 
his throne," said Sapt. 

Then Fritz von Tarlenheim suddenly, before I could 
discern his purpose or stay him, uncovered his head 



THE PRISONER OF ZENDA l8l 

and bent as he used to do, and kissed my hand ; and, 
as I snatched it away, he said, tndng to laugh : 

"Heaven doesn't always make the right men 
kings!" 

Old Sapt twisted his mouth as he wrung my 
hand. 

"The devil has his share in most things," said he. 

The people at the station looked curiously at the tall 
man with the muffled face, but we took no notice of 
their glances. I stood with my two friends and waited 
till the train came up to us. Then w^e shook hands 
again, saying nothing ; and both this time — and, indeed, 
from old Sapt it seemed strange — bared their heads, 
and so stood still till the tiain bore me away from their 
sight. So that it was thought some great man travelled 
privately for his pleasure from the little station that 
morning; whereas, in truth, it was only I, Rudolf 
Rassendyll, an English gentleman, a cadet of a good 
house, but a man of no wealth nor position, nor of much 
rank. They would have been disappointed to know 
that. Yet had they known all they would have looked 
more curiously still. For, be I w^hat I might now, I 
had been for three months a King, which, if not a thing 
to be proud of, is at least an experience to have under- 
gone. Doubtless I should have thought more of it, had 
there not echoed through the air, from the towers of 
Zenda that we were leaving far away, into my ears and 
into my heart the cry of a woman's love — "Rudolf! 
Rudolf! Rudolf!" 

Hark ! I hear it now ! 



l82 THE PRISONER OF ZENDA 

CHAPTER XXn 

PAESENT, PAST— AND FUTURE? 

The details of my return home can have but little 
interest. I went straight to the Tyrol and spent a 
quiet fortnight — mostly on my back, for a severe chill 
developed itself; and I was also the victim of a nervous 
reaction, which made me weak as a baby. As soon as 
I had reached my quarters, I sent an apparently care- 
less postcard to my brother, announcing my good 
health and prospective return. That would serve to 
satisfy the inquiries as to my whereabouts, which were 
probably still vexing the Prefect of the Police of Strel- 
sau. I let my moustache and imperial grow again; 
and as hair comes quickly on my face, they were respect- 
able, though not luxuriant, by the time that I landed 
myself in Paris and called on my friend George 
Featherly. My interview with him was chiefly re- 
markable for the number of unwilling but necessary 
falsehoods that I told; and I rallied him unmercifully 
when he told me that he had made up his mind that 
I had gone in the track of Madame de Mauban to 
Strelsau. The lady, it appeared, was back in Paris, 
but was living in great seclusion — a fact for which 
gossip found no difliculty in accounting. Did not all 
the world know of the treachery and death of Duke 
Michael? Nevertheless, George bade Bertram Bert- 
rand be of good cheer, "for," said he flippantly, "a live 
poet is better than a dead duke." Then he turned on 
me and asked : 

"What have you been doing to your moustache?" 

"To tell the truth," I answered, assuming a sly 

air, "a man now and then has reasons for wishing to 



THE PRISONER OF ZENDA 183 

alter his appearance. But it's coming on very well 
again." 

"What? Then I wasn't so far out! If not the fair 
Antoinette, there was a charmer?" 

"There is always a charmer," said I, sententiously. . 

But George would not be satisfied till he had wormed 
out of me (he took much pride in his ingenuity) an 
absolutely imaginary love-affair, attended with the 
proper soupfon of scandal, which had kept me all this 
time in the peaceful regions of the Tyrol. In return 
for this narrative, George regaled me with a great deal 
of what he called inside information" (known only 
to diplomatists), as to the true course of events in 
Ruritania, the plots and counter-plots. In his 
opinion, he told me, with a significant nod, there was 
moie to be said for Black Michael than the public 
supposed; and he hinted at a well-founded suspicion 
that the mysterious piisoner of Zenda, concerning 
whom a good many paragraphs had appeared, was 
not a man at all, but (here I had much ado not 
to smile) a woman disguised as a man; and that 
strife between the King and his brother for this 
imaginary lady's favour was at the bottom of their 
quarrel. 

"Perhaps it was Madame de Mauban herself," I 
suggested. 

"No!" said George decisively. "Antoinette de 
Mauban was jealous of her, and betrayed the duke to 
the King for that reason. And, to confirm what I say, 
it's well known that the Princess Flavia is now ex- 
tremely cold to the King, after having been most 
affectionate." 

At this point I changed the subject, and escaped from 
George's "inspired" delusions. But if diplomatists 
never know anything more than they had succeeded 



184 THE PRISONER OF ZENDA 

in finding out in this instance, they appear to me to be 
somewhat expensive luxuries. 

While in Paris I wrote to Antoinette, though I did 
not venture to call upon her. I received in return a 
very affecting letter, in which she assured me that the 
King's generosity and kindness, no less than her regard 
for me, bound her conscience to absolute secrecy. She 
expressed the intention of settling in the country, and 
withdrawing herself entirely from society. Whether 
she carried out her designs, I have never heard; but 
as I have not met her, or heard news of her up 
to this time, it is probable that she did. There is 
no doubt that she was deeply attached to the Duke 
of Strelsau; and her conduct at the time of his death 
proved that no knowledge of the man's real character 
was enough to root her regard for him out of her 
heart. 

I had one more battle left to fight — a battle that 
would, I knew, be severe, and was bound to end in my 
complete defeat. Was I not back from the Tyrol, 
without having made any study of its inhabitants, 
institutions, scenery, fauna, flora, or other features? 
Had I not simply wasted my time in my usual frivolous 
good-for-nothing way? That was the aspect of the 
matter which, I was obliged to admit, would present 
itself to my sister-in-law; and against a verdict based 
on such evidence, I had really no defence to offer. It 
may be supposed, then, that I presented myself in Park 
Lane in a shamefaced, sheepish fashion. On the whole, 
my reception was not so alarming as I had feared. It 
turned out that I had done, not what Rose wished, 
but — ^the next best thing — what she prophesied. She 
had declared that I should make no notes, record 
no observations, gather no materials. My brother, on 
the other hand, had been weak enough to maintain 



THE PRISONER OF ZEND A 185 

that a really serious resolve had at length animated 
me. 

When I returned empty-handed, Rose was so occupied 
in triumphing over Burlesdon that she let me down 
quite easily, devoting the greater part of her reproaches 
to my failure to advertise my friends of my where- 
abouts. 

"We've wasted a lot of time trying to find vou," 
she said. 

"I know you have," said I. "Half our ambassadors 
have led weary lives on my account. George Featherly 
told me so. But why should you have been anxious? 
I can take care of myself." 

"Oh, it wasn't that," she cried scornfully, "but I 
wanted to tell you about Sir Jacob Borodaile. You 
know, he's got an Embassy — at least, he will have in a 
month — and he wrote to say he hoped you would go 
with him." 

"Where's he going to?" 

"He's going to succeed Lord Topham at Strelsau," 
said she. "You couldn't have a nicer place, short of 
Paris." 

"Strelsau! H'm!" said I, glancing at my brother. 

"Oh, that doesn't matter!" exclaimed Rose im- 
patiently. "Now, you will go, won't you?" 

"I don't know that I care about it!" 

"Oh, you're too exasperating!" 

"-Vnd I don't think I can go to Strelsau. My dear 
Rose, would it be — suitable?" 

"Oh, nobody remembers that horrid old story 
now." 

Upon this, I took out of my pocket a portrait of the 
King of Ruritania. It had been taken a month or two 
before he ascended the throne. She could not miss my 
point when I said, putting it into her hands: 



l86 THE PRISONER OF ZENDA 

"In case you've not seen, or not noticed, a picture 
of Rudolf V, there he is. Don't you think they 
might recall the story, if I appeared at the Court of 
Ruritania?" 

My sister-in-law looked at the portrait, and then at 
me. 

"Good gracious!" she said, and flung the photograph 
down on the table. 

"What do you say. Bob ?" I asked. 

Burlesdon got up, went to a comer of the room, and 
searched in a heap of newspapers. Presently he came 
back with a copy of the Illustrated London News. Open- 
ing the paper, he displayed a double-page engraving of 
the Coronation of Rudolf V at Strelsau. The photograph 
and the picture he laid side by side. I sat at the table 
fronting them ; and, as I looked, I grew absorbed. My 
eye travelled from my own portrait to Sapt, to Strakencz, 
to the rich robes of the Cardinal, to Black Michael's 
face, to the stately figure of the princess by his side. 
Long I looked and eagerly. I was roused by my brother's 
hand on my shoulder. He was gazing down at me with 
a puzzled expression. 

"It's a remarkable likeness, you see," said I, "I really 
think I had better not go to Ruritania." 

Rose, though half convinced, would not abandon her 
position. 

"It's just an excuse," she said pettishly. "You don't 
want to do anything. Why, you might become an 
ambassador!" 

"I don't think I want to be an ambassador," 
said I. 

"It's more than you ever will be," she retorted. 

That is very likely true, but it is not more than I have 
been. The idea of being an ambassador could scarcely 
dazzle me. I had been a king 1 



THE PRISONER OF ZENDA 187 

So pretty Rose left us in dudgeon; and Burlesdon, 
lighting a cigarette, looked at me still with that curious 
gaze. 

"That picture in the paper " he said. 

"Well, what of it? It shows that the King of 
Ruritania and your humble ser\ant are as like as two 
peas." 

My brother shook his head. 

"I suppose so," he said. "But I should know you 
from the man in the photograph." 

"And not from the picture in the paper?" 

"I should know the photograph from the picture : the 
picture's very like the photograph, but " 

"Well?" 

"It's more like you !" said my brother. 

My brother is a good man and true — so that, for all 
that he is a married man and mighty fond of his wife, 
he should know any secret of mine. But this secret was 
not mine, and I could not tell it to him. 

"I don't think it's so much like me as the photograph," 
said I boldly. "But, anyhow, Bob, I won't go to 
Strelsau." 

"No, don't go to Strelsau, Rudolf," said he. 

And whether he suspects anything, or has a glimmer 
of the truth, I do not know. If he has, he keeps it to 
himself, and he and I never refer to it. And we let Sir 
Jacob Borrodaile find another attache. 

Since all these events whose history I have set down 
happened I have lived a very quiet life at a small house 
which I have taken in the country. The ordinar^^ 
ambitions and aims of men in my position seem to me 
dull and unattractive. I have little fancy for the whirl 
of society, and none for the jostle of politics. Lady 
Burlesdon utterly despairs of me ; my neighbours think 
me an indolent, dreamy, unsociable fellow. Yet I am 



l88 THE PRISONER OF ZENDA 

a young man; and sometimes I have a fancy — the 
superstitious would call it a presentiment — that my part 
in life is not yet altogether played; that, somehow and 
some day, I shall mix again in great affairs, I shall 
again spin policies in a busy brain, match my wits 
against my enemies', brace my muscles to fight a 
good fight and strike stout blows. Such is the tissue 
of my thoughts as, with gun or rod in hand, I wander 
through the woods or by the side of the stream. 
Whether the fancy will be fulfilled, I cannot tell — 
still less whether the scene that, led by memory, I lay 
for my new exploits will be the true one — for I love to 
see myself once again in the crowded streets of 
Strelsau, or beneath the frowning keep of the Castle 
of Zenda. 

Thus led, my broodings leave the future, and turn 
back on the past. Shapes rise before me in long array 
— the wild first revel with the King, the rush with my 
brave tea-table, the night in the moat, the pursuit in 
the forest: my friends and my foes, the people who 
learnt to love and honour me, the desperate men who 
tried to kill me. And, from amidst these last, comes one 
who alone of all of them yet moves on earth, though 
where I know not, yet plans (as I do not doubt) wicked- 
ness, yet turns women's hearts to softness and men's to 
fear and hate. Where is young Rupert of Hentzau — 
the boy who came so nigh to beating me ? When 
his name comes into my head, I feel my hand grip 
and the blood move quicker through my veins: and 
the hint of Fate — the presentiment — seems to grow 
stronger and more definite, and to whisper insistently 
in my ear that I have yet a hand to play with young 
Rupert; therefore I exercise myself in arms, and 
seek to put off the day when the vigour of youth must 
leave me. 



THE PRISONER OF ZEND A 189 

One break comes every year in my quiet life. Tiien 
I go to Dresden, and there I am met by my dear friend 
and companion, Fritz von Tarlenheim. Last time, his 
pretty wife Helga came, and a lusty crowing baby with 
her. And for a week Fritz and I are together, and I hear 
all of what falls out in Strelsau ; and in the evenings, as 
we walk and smoke together, we talk of Sapt, and of the 
King, and often of young Rupert; and, as the hours 
grow small, at last we speak of Flavia. For every year 
Fritz carried with him to Dresden a little box; in it 
lies a red rose, and round the stalk of the rose is a slip 
of paper with the words written: "Rudolf — Flavia — 
always." And the like I send back by him. That message, 
and the wearing of the rings, are all that now bind me 
and the Queen of Ruritania. For — nobler, as I hold her, 
for the act — she has followed where her duty to her 
country- and her House led her, and is the wife of 
the King, uniting his subjects to him by the love they 
bear to her, giving peace and quiet days to thousands 
by her self-sacrifice. There are moments when I 
dare not think of it, but there are others when I 
rise in spirit to where she ever dwells; then I can 
thank God that I love the noblest lady in the world, 
the most gracious and beautiful, and that there was 
nothing in my love that made her fall short in her 
high duty. 

Shall I see her face again — the pale face and the 
glorious hair? Of that I know nothing; Fate has no 
hint, my heart no presentiment. I do not know. In 
this world, perhaps — nay, it is likely — never. And can 
it be that somewhere, in a manner whereof our flesh- 
bound minds have no apprehension, she and I will 
be together again, with nothing to come between us, 
nothing to forbid our love? That I know not, nor 
wiser heads than mine. But if it be never — if I can 



190 THE PRISONER OF ZENDA 

never hold sweet converse again with her, or look upon 
her face, or know from her her love; why, then, this 
side the grave, I will live as becomes the man whom 
she loves ; and, for the other side, I must pray a dream- 
less sleep. 



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