THERE IS little need, and I have little heart, to dwell on what followed the death of Mr. Rassendyll. The plans we had laid to secure his tenure of the throne, in case he had accepted it, served well in the event of his death. Bauer’s lips were for ever sealed; the old woman was too scared and appalled to hint even to her gossips of the suspicions she entertained. Rischenheim was loyal to the pledge he had given to the queen. The ashes of the hunting-lodge held their secret fast, and none suspected when the charred body which was called Rudolf Rassendyll’s was laid to quiet rest in the graveyard of the town of Zenda, hard by the tomb of Herbert the forester. For we had from the first rejected any idea of bringing the king’s body to Strelsau and setting it in the place of Mr. Rassendyll’s. The difficulties of such an undertaking were almost insuperable; in our hearts we did not desire to conquer them. As a king Rudolf Rassendyll had died, as a king let him lie. As a king he lay in his palace at Strelsau, while the news of his murder at the hands of a confederate of Rupert of Hentzau went forth to startle and appall the world. At a mighty price our task had been made easy; many might have doubted the living, none questioned the dead; suspicions which might have gathered round a throne died away at the gate of a vault. The king was dead. Who would ask if it were in truth the king who lay in state in the great hall of the palace, or whether the humble grave at Zenda held the bones of the last male Elphberg? In the silence of the grave all murmurs and questionings were hushed.
Throughout the day people had been passing and repassing through the great hall. There, on a stately bier surmounted by a crown and the drooping folds of the royal banner, lay Rudolf Rassendyll. The highest officer guarded him; in the cathedral the archbishop said a mass for his soul. He had lain there three days; the evening of the third had come, and early on the morrow he was to be buried. There is a little gallery in the hall, that looks down on the spot where the bier stood; here was I on this evening, and with me Queen Flavia. We were alone together, and together we saw beneath us the calm face of the dead man. He was clad in the white uniform in which he had been crowned; the ribbon of the Red Rose was across his breast. His hand held a true red rose, fresh and fragrant; Flavia herself had set it there, that even in death he might not miss the chosen token of her love. I had not spoken to her, nor she to me, since we came there. We watched the pomp round him, and the circles of people that came to bring a wreath for him or to look upon his face. I saw a girl come and kneel long at the bier’s foot. She rose and went away sobbing, leaving a little circlet of flowers. It was Rosa Holf. I saw women come and go weeping, and men bite their lips as they passed by. Rischenheim came, pale-faced and troubled; and while all came and went, there, immovable, with drawn sword, in military stiffness, old Sapt stood at the head of the bier, his eyes set steadily in front of him, and his body never stirring from hour to hour through the long day.
A distant faint hum of voices reached us. The queen laid her hand on my arm.
“It is the dream, Fritz,” she said. “Hark! They speak of the king; they speak in low voices and with grief, but they call him king. It’s what I saw in the dream. But he does not hear nor heed. No, he can’t hear nor heed even when I call him my king.”
A sudden impulse came on me, and I turned to her, asking:
“What had he decided, madam? Would he have been king?” She started a little.
“He didn’t tell me,” she answered, “and I didn’t think of it while he spoke to me.”
“Of what then did he speak, madam?”
“Only of his love — of nothing but his love, Fritz,” she answered.
Well, I take it that when a man comes to die, love is more to him than a kingdom: it may be, if we could see truly, that it is more to him even while he lives.
“Of nothing but his great love for me, Fritz,” she said again. “And my love brought him to his death.”
“He wouldn’t have had it otherwise,” said I.
“No,” she whispered; and she leant over the parapet of the gallery, stretching out her arms to him. But he lay still and quiet, not hearing and not heeding what she murmured, “My king! my king!” It was even as it had been in the dream.
That night James, the servant, took leave of his dead master and of us. He carried to England by word of mouth — for we dared write nothing down — the truth concerning the King of Ruritania and Mr. Rassendyll. It was to be told to the Earl of Burlesdon, Rudolf’s brother, under a pledge of secrecy; and to this day the earl is the only man besides ourselves who knows the story. His errand done, James returned in order to enter the queen’s service, in which he still is; and he told us that when Lord Burlesdon had heard the story he sat silent for a great while, and then said:
“He did well. Some day I will visit his grave. Tell her Majesty that there is still a Rassendyll, if she has need of one.”
The offer was such as should come from a man of Rudolf’s name, yet I trust that the queen needs no further service than such as it is our humble duty and dear delight to render her. It is our part to strive to lighten the burden that she bears, and by our love to assuage her undying grief. For she reigns now in Ruritania alone, the last of all the Elphbergs; and her only joy is to talk of Mr. Rassendyll with those few who knew him, her only hope that she may some day be with him again.
In great pomp we laid him to his rest in the vault of the kings of Ruritania in the Cathedral of Strelsau. There he lies among the princes of the House of Elphberg. I think that if there be indeed any consciousness among the dead, or any knowledge of what passes in the world they have left, they should be proud to call him brother. There rises in memory of him a stately monument, and people point it out to one another as the memorial of King Rudolf. I go often to the spot, and recall in thought all that passed when he came the first time to Zenda, and again on his second coming. For I mourn him as a man mourns a trusted leader and a loved comrade, and I should have asked no better than to be allowed to serve him all my days. Yet I serve the queen, and in that I do most truly serve her lover.
Times change for all of us. The roaring flood of youth goes by, and the stream of life sinks to a quiet flow. Sapt is an old man now; soon my sons will be grown up, men enough themselves to serve Queen Flavia. Yet the memory of Rudolf Rassendyll is fresh to me as on the day he died, and the vision of the death of Rupert of Hentzau dances often before my eyes. It may be that some day the whole story shall be told, and men shall judge of it for themselves. To me it seems now as though all had ended well. I must not be misunderstood: my heart is still sore for the loss of him. But we saved the queen’s fair fame, and to Rudolf himself the fatal stroke came as a relief from a choice too difficult: on the one side lay what impaired his own honor, on the other what threatened hers. As I think on this my anger at his death is less, though my grief cannot be. To this day I know not how he chose; no, and I don’t know how he should have chosen. Yet he had chosen, for his face was calm and clear.
Come, I have thought so much of him that I will go now and stand before his monument, taking with me my last-born son, a little lad of ten. He is not too young to desire to serve the queen, and not too young to learn to love and reverence him who sleeps there in the vault and was in his life the noblest gentleman I have known.
I will take the boy with me and tell him what I may of brave King Rudolf, how he fought and how he loved, and how he held the queen’s honor and his own above all things in this world. The boy is not too young to learn such lessons from the life of Mr. Rassendyll. And while we stand there I will turn again into his native tongue — for, alas, the young rogue loves his toy soldiers better than his Latin! — the inscription that the queen wrote with her own hand, directing that it should be inscribed in that stately tongue over the tomb in which her life lies buried.
“To Rudolf, who reigned lately in this city, and reigns for ever in her heart. — QUEEN FLAVIA.”
I told him the meaning, and he spelt the big words over in his childish voice; at first he stumbled, but the second time he had it right, and recited with a little touch of awe in his fresh young tones:
Qui in hac civitate nuper regnavit In corde ipsius in aeternum regnat
I felt his hand tremble in mine, and he looked up in my face. “God save the Queen, father,” said he.
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Last updated Monday, December 22, 2014 at 10:51