Rupert of Hentzau: From the Memoirs of Fritz Von Tarlenheim
Chapter III: Again to Zenda
By Heaven’s care, or--since a man may be over-apt to arrogate to himself great share of such attention--by good luck, I had not to trust for my life to the slender thread of an oath sworn by Rupert of Hentzau. The visions of my dazed brain were transmutations of reality; the scuffle, the rush, the retreat were not all dream.
There is an honest fellow now living in Wintenberg comfortably and at his ease by reason that his wagon chanced to come lumbering along with three or four stout lads in it at the moment when Rupert was meditating a second and murderous blow. Seeing the group of us, the good carrier and his lads leapt down and rushed on my assailants. One of the thieves, they said, was for fighting it out--I could guess who that was--and called on the rest to stand; but they, more prudent, laid hands on him, and, in spite of his oaths, hustled him off along the road towards the station. Open country lay there and the promise of safety. My new friends set off in pursuit; but a couple of revolver shots, heard by me, but not understood, awoke their caution. Good Samaritans, but not men of war, they returned to where I lay senseless on the ground, congratulating themselves and me that an enemy so well armed should run and not stand his ground. They forced a drink of rough wine down my throat, and in a minute or two I opened my eyes. They were for carrying me to a hospital; I would have none of it. As soon as things grew clear to me again and I knew where I was, I did nothing but repeat in urgent tones, “The Golden Lion, The Golden Lion! Twenty crowns to carry me to the Golden Lion.”
Perceiving that I knew my own business and where I wished to go, one picked up my hand-bag and the rest hoisted me into their wagon and set out for the hotel where Rudolf Rassendyll was. The one thought my broken head held was to get to him as soon as might be and tell him how I had been fool enough to let myself be robbed of the queen’s letter.
He was there. He stood on the threshold of the inn, waiting for me, as it seemed, although it was not yet the hour of my appointment. As they drew me up to the door, I saw his tall, straight figure and his red hair by the light of the hall lamps. By Heaven, I felt as a lost child must on sight of his mother! I stretched out my hand to him, over the side of the wagon, murmuring, “I’ve lost it.”
He started at the words, and sprang forward to me. Then he turned quickly to the carrier.
“This gentleman is my friend,” he said. “Give him to me. I’ll speak to you later.” He waited while I was lifted down from the wagon into the arms that he held ready for me, and himself carried me across the threshold. I was quite clear in the head by now and understood all that passed. There were one or two people in the hall, but Mr. Rassendyll took no heed of them. He bore me quickly upstairs and into his sitting-room. There he set me down in an arm-chair, and stood opposite to me. He was smiling, but anxiety was awake in his eyes.
“I’ve lost it,” I said again, looking up at him pitifully enough.
“That’s all right,” said he, nodding. “Will you wait, or can you tell me?”
“Yes, but give me some brandy,” said I.
Rudolf gave me a little brandy mixed in a great deal of water, and then I made shift to tell him. Though faint, I was not confused, and I gave my story in brief, hurried, yet sufficient words. He made no sign till I mentioned the letter. Then his face changed.
“A letter, too?” he exclaimed, in a strange mixture of increased apprehension and unlooked-for joy.
“Yes, a letter, too; she wrote a letter, and I carried that as well as the box. I’ve lost them both, Rudolf. God help me, I’ve lost them both!
Rupert has the letter too!” I think I must have been weak and unmanned from the blow I had received, for my composure broke down here. Rudolf stepped up to me and wrung me by the hand. I mastered myself again and looked in his face as he stood in thought, his hand caressing the strong curve of his clean-shaven chin. Now that I was with him again it seemed as though I had never lost him; as though we were still together in Strelsau or at Tarlenheim, planning how to hoodwink Black Michael, send Rupert of Hentzau to his own place, and bring the king back to his throne. For Mr. Rassendyll, as he stood before me now, was changed in nothing since our last meeting, nor indeed since he reigned in Strelsau, save that a few flecks of gray spotted his hair.
My battered head ached most consumedly. Mr. Rassendyll rang the bell twice, and a short, thickset man of middle age appeared; he wore a suit of tweed, and had the air of smartness and respectability which marks English servants.
“James,” said Rudolf, “this gentleman has hurt his head. Look after it.”
James went out. In a few minutes he was back, with water, basin, towels, and bandages. Bending over me, he began to wash and tend my wound very deftly. Rudolf was walking up and down.
“Done the head, James?” he asked, after a few moments.
“Yes, sir,” answered the servant, gathering together his appliances.
“Telegraph forms, then.”
James went out, and was back with the forms in an instant.
“Be ready when I ring,” said Rudolf. And he added, turning to me, “Any easier, Fritz?”
“I can listen to you now,” I said.
“I see their game,” said he. “One or other of them, Rupert or this Rischenheim, will try to get to the king with the letter.”
I sprang to my feet.
“They mustn’t,” I cried, and I reeled back into my chair, with a feeling as if a red-hot poker were being run through my head.
“Much you can do to stop ‘em, old fellow,” smiled Rudolf, pausing to press my hand as he went by. “They won’t trust the post, you know. One will go. Now which?” He stood facing me with a thoughtful frown on his face.
I did not know, but I thought that Rischenheim would go. It was a great risk for Rupert to trust himself in the kingdom, and he knew that the king would not easily be persuaded to receive him, however startling might be the business he professed as his errand. On the other hand, nothing was known against Rischenheim, while his rank would secure, and indeed entitle, him to an early audience. Therefore I concluded that Rischenheim would go with the letter, or, if Rupert would not let that out of his possession, with the news of the letter.
“Or a copy,” suggested Rassendyll. “Well, Rischenheim or Rupert will be on his way by to-morrow morning, or is on his way to-night.”
Again I tried to rise, for I was on fire to prevent the fatal consequences of my stupidity. Rudolf thrust me back in my chair, saying,
“No, no.” Then he sat down at the table and took up the telegraph forms.
“You and Sapt arranged a cipher, I suppose?” he asked.
“Yes. You write the message, and I’ll put it into the cipher.”
“This is what I’ve written: ‘Document lost. Let nobody see him if possible. Wire who asks.’ I don’t like to make it plainer: most ciphers can be read, you know.”
“Not ours,” said I.
“Well, but will that do?” asked Rudolf, with an unconvinced smile.
“Yes, I think he’ll understand it.” And I wrote it again in the cipher; it was as much as I could do to hold the pen.
The bell was rung again, and James appeared in an instant.
“Send this,” said Rudolf.
“The offices will be shut, sir.”
“Very good, sir; but it may take an hour to get one open.”
“I’ll give you half an hour. Have you money?”
“And now,” added Rudolf, turning to me, “you’d better go to bed.”
I do not recollect what I answered, for my faintness came upon me again, and I remember only that Rudolf himself helped me into his own bed. I slept, but I do not think he so much as lay down on the sofa; chancing to awake once or twice, I heard him pacing about. But towards morning I slept heavily, and I did not know what he was doing then. At eight o’clock James entered and roused me. He said that a doctor was to be at the hotel in half an hour, but that Mr. Rassendyll would like to see me for a few minutes if I felt equal to business. I begged James to summon his master at once. Whether I were equal or unequal, the business had to be done.
Rudolf came, calm and serene. Danger and the need for exertion acted on him like a draught of good wine on a seasoned drinker. He was not only himself, but more than himself: his excellences enhanced, the indolence that marred him in quiet hours sloughed off. But to-day there was something more; I can only describe it as a kind of radiance. I have seen it on the faces of young sparks when the lady they love comes through the ball-room door, and I have seen it glow more softly in a girl’s eyes when some fellow who seemed to me nothing out of the ordinary asked her for a dance. That strange gleam was on Rudolf’s face as he stood by my bedside. I dare say it used to be on mine when I went courting.
“Fritz, old friend,” said he, “there’s an answer from Sapt. I’ll lay the telegraph offices were stirred in Zenda as well as James stirred them here in Wintenberg! And what do you think? Rischenheim asked for an audience before he left Strelsau.”
I raised myself on my elbow in the bed.
“You understand?” he went on. “He left on Monday. To-day’s Wednesday.
The king has granted him an audience at four on Friday. Well, then--”
“They counted on success,” I cried, “and Rischenheim takes the letter!”
“A copy, if I know Rupert of Hentzau. Yes, it was well laid. I like the men taking all the cabs! How much ahead had they, now.”
I did not know that, though I had no more doubt than he that Rupert’s hand was in the business.
“Well,” he continued, “I am going to wire to Sapt to put Rischenheim off for twelve hours if he can; failing that, to get the king away from Zenda.”
“But Rischenheim must have his audience sooner or later,” I objected.
“Sooner or later--there’s the world’s difference between them!” cried Rudolf Rassendyll. He sat down on the bed by me, and went on in quick, decisive words: “You can’t move for a day or two. Send my message to Sapt. Tell him to keep you informed of what happens. As soon as you can travel, go to Strelsau, and let Sapt know directly you arrive. We shall want your help.”
“And what are you going to do?” I cried, staring at him.
He looked at me for a moment, and his face was crossed by conflicting feelings. I saw resolve there, obstinacy, and the scorn of danger; fun, too, and merriment; and, lastly, the same radiance I spoke of. He had been smoking a cigarette; now he threw the end of it into the grate and rose from the bed where he had been sitting.
“I’m going to Zenda,” said he.
“To Zenda!” I cried, amazed.
“Yes,” said Rudolf. “I’m going again to Zenda, Fritz, old fellow. By heaven, I knew it would come, and now it has come!”
“But to do what?”
“I shall overtake Rischenheim or be hot on his heels. If he gets there first, Sapt will keep him waiting till I come; and if I come, he shall never see the king. Yes, if I come in time--” He broke into a sudden laugh. “What!” he cried, “have I lost my likeness? Can’t I still play the king? Yes, if I come in time, Rischenheim shall have his audience of the king of Zenda, and the king will be very gracious to him, and the king will take his copy of the letter from him! Oh, Rischenheim shall have an audience of King Rudolf in the castle of Zenda, never fear!”
He stood, looking to see how I received his plan; but amazed at the boldness of it, I could only lie back and gasp.
Rudolf’s excitement left him as suddenly as it had come; he was again the cool, shrewd, nonchalant Englishman, as, lighting another cigarette, he proceeded: