Rudolph of Trulyruralania
WHEN I state that I was own brother to Lord Burleydon, had an income of two thousand a year, could speak all the polite languages fluently, was a powerful swordsman, a good shot, and could ride anything from an elephant to a clotheshorse, I really think I have said enough to satisfy any feminine novel-reader of Bayswater or South Kensington that I was a hero. My brother’s wife, however, did not seem to incline to this belief.
“A more conceited, self-satisfied little cad I never met than you,” she said. “Why don’t you try to do something instead of sneering at others who do? You never take anything seriously—except yourself, which isn’t worth it. You are proud of your red hair and peaked nose just because you fondly believe that you got them from the Prince of Trulyruralania, and are willing to think evil of your ancestress to satisfy your snobbish little soul. Let me tell you, sir, that there was no more truth about that than there was in that silly talk of her partiality for her husband’s red-haired gamekeeper in Scotland. Ah! that makes you start—don’t it? But I have always observed that a mule is apt to remember only the horse side of his ancestry!”
Whenever my pretty sister-in-law talks in this way I always try to forget that she came of a family far inferior to our own, the Razorbills. Indeed, her people—of the Nonconformist stock—really had nothing but wealth and rectitude, and I think my brother Bob, in his genuine love for her, was willing to overlook the latter for the sake of the former.
My pretty sister-in-law’s interest in my affairs always made me believe that she secretly worshiped me—although it was a fact, as will be seen in the progress of this story, that most women blushed on my addressing them. I used to say it “was the reflection of my red hair on a transparent complexion,” which was rather neat— wasn’t it? And subtle? But then, I was always saying such subtle things.
“My dear Rose,” I said, laying down my egg spoon (the egg spoon really had nothing to do with this speech, but it imparted such a delightfully realistic flavor to the scene), “I’m not to blame if I resemble the S’helpburgs.”
“It’s your being so beastly proud of it that I object to!” she replied. “And for Heaven’s sake, try to be something, and not merely resemble things! The fact is you resemble too much—you’re always resembling. You resemble a man of fashion, and you’re not; a wit, and you’re not; a soldier, a sportsman, a hero—and you’re none of ’em. Altogether, you’re not in the least convincing. Now, listen! There’s a good chance for you to go as our attaché with Lord Mumblepeg, the new Ambassador to Cochin China. In all the novels, you know, attachés are always the confidants of Grand Duchesses, and know more state secrets than their chiefs; in real life, I believe they are something like a city clerk with a leaning to private theatricals. Say you’ll go! Do!”
“I’ll take a few months’ holiday first,” I replied, “and then,” I added in my gay, dashing way, “if the place is open—hang it if I don’t go!”
“Good old bounder!” she said, “and don’t think too much of that precious Prince Rupert. He was a bad lot.”
She blushed again at me—as her husband entered.
“Take Rose’s advice, Rupert, my boy,” he said, “and go!”
And that is how I came to go to Trulyruralania. For I secretly resolved to take my holiday in traveling in that country and trying, as dear Lady Burleydon put it, really to be somebody, instead of resembling anybody in particular. A precious lot she knew about it!
In Which My Hair Causes a Lot of Things
You go to Trulyruralania from Charing Cross. In passing through Paris we picked up Mlle. Beljambe, who was going to Kohlslau, the capital of Trulyruralania, to marry the Grand Duke Michael, who, however, as I was informed, was in love with the Princess Flirtia. She blushed on seeing me—but, I was told afterwards, declined being introduced to me on any account. However, I thought nothing of this, and went on to Bock, the next station to Kohlslau. At the little inn in the forest I was informed I was just in time to see the coronation of the new king the next day. The landlady and her daughter were very communicative, and, after the fashion of the simple, guileless stage peasant, instantly informed me what everybody was doing, and at once explained the situation. She told me that the Grand Duke Michael—or Black Michael as he was called—himself aspired to the throne, as well as to the hand of the Princess Flirtia, but was hated by the populace, who preferred the young heir, Prince Rupert; because he had the hair and features of the dynasty of the S’helpburgs, “which,” she added, “are singularly like your own.”
“But is red hair so very peculiar here?” I asked.
“Among the Jews—yes, sire! I mean yes, sir,” she corrected herself. “You seldom see a red-headed Jew.”
“The Jews!” I repeated in astonishment.
“Of course you know the S’helpburgs are descended directly from Solomon—and have indeed some of his matrimonial peculiarities,” she said, blushing.
I was amazed—but recalled myself. “But why do they call the Duke of Kohlslau Black Michael?” I asked carelessly.
“Because be is nearly black, sir. You see, when the great Prince Rupert went abroad in the old time he visited England, Scotland, and Africa. They say he married an African lady there—and that the Duke is really more in the direct line of succession than Prince Rupert.”
But here the daughter showed me to my room. She blushed, of course, and apologized for not bringing a candle, as she thought my hair was sufficiently illuminating. “But,” she added with another blush, “I do so like it.”
I replied by giving her something of no value,—a Belgian nickel which wouldn’t pass in Bock, as I had found to my cost. But my hair had evidently attracted attention from others, for on my return to the guest-room a stranger approached me, and in the purest and most precise German—the Court or ’Olland Hof speech—addressed me:
“Have you the red hair of the fair King or the hair of your father?”
Luckily I was able to reply with the same purity and precision: “I have both the hair of the fair King and my own. But I have not the hair of my father nor of Black Michael, nor of the innkeeper nor the innkeeper’s wife. The red heir of the fair King would be a son.”
Possibly this delicate mot on the approaching marriage of the King was lost in the translation, for the stranger strode abruptly away. I learned, however, that the King was actually then in Bock, at the castle a few miles distant, in the woods. I resolved to stroll thither.
It was a fine old mediaeval structure. But as the singular incidents I am about to relate combine the romantic and adventurous atmosphere of the middle ages with all the appliances of modern times, I may briefly state that the castle was lit by electricity, had fire-escapes on each of the turrets, four lifts, and was fitted up by one of the best West End establishments. The sanitary arrangements were excellent, and the drainage of the most perfect order, as I had reason to know personally later. I was so affected by the peaceful solitude that I lay down under a tree and presently fell asleep. I was awakened by the sound of voices, and, looking up, beheld two men bending over me. One was a grizzled veteran, and the other a younger dandyfied man; both were dressed in shooting suits.
“Never saw such a resemblance before in all my life,” said the elder man. “’Pon my soul! if the King hadn’t got shaved yesterday because the Princess Flirtia said his beard tickled her, I’d swear it was he!”
I could not help thinking how lucky it was—for this narrative—that the King had shaved, otherwise my story would have degenerated into a mere Comedy of Errors. Opening my eyes, I said boldly:
“Now that you are satisfied who I resemble, gentlemen, perhaps you will tell me who you are?”
“Certainly,” said the elder curtly. “I am Spitz—a simple colonel of his Majesty’s, yet, nevertheless, the one man who runs this whole dynasty—and this young gentleman is Fritz, my lieutenant. And you are—?”
“My name is Razorbill—brother to Lord Burleydon,” I replied calmly.
“Good heavens! another of the lot!” he muttered. Then, correcting himself, he said brusquely: “Any relation to that Englishwoman who was so sweet on the old Rupert centuries ago?”
Here, again, I suppose my sister-in-law would have had me knock down the foreign insulter of my English ancestress—but I colored to the roots of my hair, and even farther—with pleasure at this proof of my royal descent! And then a cheery voice was heard calling “Spitz!” and “Fritz!” through the woods.
“The King!” said Spitz to Fritz quickly. “He must not see him.”
“Too late,” said Fritz, as a young man bounded lightly out of the bushes.
I was thunderstruck! It was as if I had suddenly been confronted with a mirror—and beheld myself! Of course he was not quite so good-looking, or so tall, but he was still a colorable imitation! I was delighted.
Nevertheless, for a moment he did not seem to reciprocate my feeling. He stared at me, staggered back and passed his hand across his forehead. “Can it be,” he muttered thickly, “that I’ve got ’em agin? Yet I only had—shingle glash!”
But Fritz quickly interposed.
“Your Majesty is all right—though,” he added in a lower voice, “let this be a warning to you for to-morrow! This gentleman is Mr. Razorbill—you know the old story of the Razorbills?—Ha! ha!”
But the King did not laugh; he extended his hand and said gently, “You are welcome—my cousin!” Indeed, my sister-in-law would have probably said that—dissipated though he was—he was the only gentleman there.
“I have come to see the coronation, your Majesty,” I said.
“And you shall,” said the King heartily, “and shall go with us! The show can’t begin without us—eh, Spitz?” he added playfully, poking the veteran in the ribs, “whatever Michael may do!”
Then he linked his arms in Spitz’s and mine. “Let’s go to the hut—and have some supper and fizz,” he said gayly.
We went to the hut. We had supper. We ate and drank heavily. We danced madly around the table. Nevertheless I thought that Spitz and Fritz were worried by the King’s potations, and Spitz at last went so far as to remind his Majesty that they were to start early in the morning for Kohlslau. I noticed also that as the King drank his speech grew thicker and Spitz and Fritz exchanged glances. At last Spitz said with stern significance:
“Your Majesty has not forgotten the test invariably submitted to the King at his coronation?”
“Shertenly not,” replied the King, with his reckless laugh. “The King mush be able to pronounsh—name of his country—intel-lillil-gibly: mush shay (hic!): ‘I’m King of—King of—Tootoo-tooral-looral-anyer.’” He staggered, laughed, and fell under the table.
“He cannot say it!” gasped Fritz and Spitz in one voice. “He is lost!”
“Unless,” said Fritz suddenly, pointing at me with a flash of intelligence, “He can personate him, and say it. Can you?” he turned to me brusquely.
It was an awful moment. I had been drinking heavily too, but I resolved to succeed. “I’m King of Trooly-rooly—” I murmured; but I could not master it—I staggered and followed the King under the table.
“Is there no one here,” roared Spitz, “who can shave thish dynasty, and shay ‘Tooral—’? No!——it! I mean ‘Trularlooral—’” but he, too, lurched hopelessly forward.
“No one can say ‘Tooral-looral—’” muttered Fritz; and, grasping Spitz in despair, they both rolled under the table.
How long we lay there, Heaven knows! I was awakened by Spitz playing the garden hose on me. He was booted and spurred, with Fritz by his side. The King was lying on a bench, saying feebly: “Blesh you, my chillen.”
“By politely acceding to Black Michael’s request to ‘try our one-and-six sherry,’ he has been brought to this condition,” said Spitz bitterly. “It’s a trick to keep him from being crowned. In this country if the King is crowned while drunk, the kingdom instantly reverts to a villain—no matter who. But in this case the villain is Black Michael. Ha! What say you, lad? Shall we frustrate the rascal, by having you personate the King?”
I was—well!—intoxicated at the thought! But what would my sister-in-law say? Would she—in her Nonconformist conscience—consider it strictly honorable? But I swept all scruples aside. A King was to be saved! “I will go,” I said. “Let us on to Kohlslau—riding like the wind!” We rode like the wind, furiously, madly. Mounted on a wild, dashing bay—known familiarly as the “Bay of Biscay” from its rough turbulence—I easily kept the lead. But our horses began to fail. Suddenly Spitz halted, clapped his hand to his head, and threw himself from his horse. “Fools!” he said, “we should have taken the train! It will get there an hour before we will!” He pointed to a wayside station where the 7.15 excursion train for Kohlslau was waiting.
“But how dreadfully unmediaeval!—What will the public say?” I began.
“Bother the public!” he said gruffly. “Who’s running this dynasty—you or I? Come!” With the assistance of Fritz he tied up my face with a handkerchief to simulate toothache, and then, with a shout of defiance, we three rushed madly into a closely packed third-class carriage.
Never shall I forget the perils, the fatigue, the hopes and fears of that mad journey. Panting, perspiring, packed together with cheap trippers, but exalted with the one hope of saving the King, we at last staggered out on the Kohlslau platform utterly exhausted. As we did so we heard a distant roar from the city. Fritz turned an ashen gray, Spitz a livid blue. “Are we too late?” he gasped, as we madly fought our way into the street, where shouts of “The King! The King!” were rending the air. “Can it be Black Michael?” But here the crowd parted, and a procession, preceded by outriders, flashed into the square. And there, seated in a carriage beside the most beautiful red-haired girl I had ever seen, was the King,—the King whom we had left two hours ago, dead drunk in the hut in the forest!
In Which Things Get Mixed
We reeled against each other aghast! Spitz recovered himself first. “We must fly!” he said hoarsely. “If the King has discovered our trick—we are lost!”
“But where shall we go?” I asked.
“Back to the hut.”
We caught the next train to Bock. An hour later we stood panting within the hut. Its walls and ceiling were splashed with sinister red stains. “Blood!” I exclaimed joyfully. “At last we have a real mediaeval adventure!”
“It’s Burgundy, you fool,” growled Spitz; “good Burgundy wasted!” At this moment Fritz appeared dragging in the hut-keeper.
“Where is the King?” demanded Spitz fiercely of the trembling peasant.
“He was carried away an hour ago by Black Michael and taken to the castle.”
“And when did he leave the castle?” roared Spitz.
“He never left the castle, sir, and, alas! I fear never will, alive!” replied the man, shuddering.
We stared at each other! Spitz bit his grizzled mustache. “So,” he said bitterly, “Black Michael has simply anticipated us with the same game! We have been tricked. I knew it could not be the King whom they crowned! No!” he added quickly, “I see it all—it was Rupert of Glasgow!”
“Who is Rupert of Glasgow?” I cried.
“Oh, I really can’t go over all that family rot again,” grunted Spitz. “Tell him, Fritz.”
Then, taking me aside, Fritz delicately informed me that Rupert of Glasgow—a young Scotchman—claimed equally with myself descent from the old Rupert, and that equally with myself he resembled the King. That Michael had got possession of him on his arrival in the country, kept him closely guarded in the castle, and had hid his resemblance in a black wig and false mustache; that the young Scotchman, however, seemed apparently devoted to Michael and his plots; and there was undoubtedly some secret understanding between them. That it was evidently Michael’s trick to have the pretender crowned, and then, by exposing the fraud and the condition of the real King, excite the indignation of the duped people, and seat himself on the throne! “But,” I burst out, “shall this base-born pretender remain at Kohlslau beside the beautiful Princess Flirtia? Let us to Kohlslau at once and hurl him from the throne!”
“One pretender is as good as another,” said Spitz dryly. “But leave him to me. ’Tis the King we must protect and succor! As for that Scotch springald, before midnight I shall have him kidnaped, brought back to his master in a close carriage, and you—you shall take his place at Kohlslau.”
“I will,” I said enthusiastically, drawing my sword; “but I have done nothing yet. Please let me kill something!”
“Aye, lad!” said Spitz, with a grim smile at my enthusiasm. “There’s a sheep in your path. Go out and cleave it to the saddle. And bring the saddle home!”
My sister-in-law might have thought me cruel—but I did it.
I know not how it was compassed, but that night Rupert of Glasgow was left bound and gagged against the door of the castle, and the night-bell pulled. And that night I was seated on the throne of the S’helpburgs. As I gazed at the Princess Flirtia, glowing in the characteristic beauty of the S’helpburgs, and admired her striking profile, I murmured softly and half audibly: “Her nose is as a tower that looketh toward Damascus.”
She looked puzzled, and knitted her pretty brows. “Is that poetry?” she asked.
“No” I said promptly. “It’s only part of a song of our great Ancestor.” As she blushed slightly, I playfully flung around her fair neck the jeweled collar of the Order of the S’helpburgs—three golden spheres pendant, quartered from the arms of Lombardy—with the ancient Syric motto, El Ess Dee.
She toyed with it a moment, and then said softly: “You have changed, Rupert. Do ye no ken hoo?”
I looked at her—as surprised at her dialect as at the imputation.
“You don’t talk that way, as you did. And you don’t say, ‘It will be twelve o’clock,’ when you mean, ‘It is twelve o’clock,’ nor ‘I will be going out,’ when you mean ‘I am.’ And you didn’t say, ‘Eh, sirs!’ or ‘Eh, mon,’ to any of the Court—nor ‘Hoot awa!’ nor any of those things. And,” she added with a divine little pout, “you haven’t told me I was ‘sonsie’ or ‘bonnie’ once.”
I could with difficulty restrain myself. Rage, indignation, and jealousy filled my heart almost to bursting. I understood it all; that rascally Scotchman had made the most of his time, and dared to get ahead of me! I did not mind being taken for the King, but to be confounded with this infernal descendant of a gamekeeper—was too much! Yet with a superhuman effort I remained calm—and even smiled.
“You are not well?” said the Princess earnestly. “I thought you were taking too much of the Strasbourg pie at supper! And you are not going, surely—so soon?” she added, as I rose.
“I must go at once,” I said. “I have forgotten some important business at Bock.”
“Not boar hunting again?” she said poutingly.
“No, I’m hunting a red dear,” I said with that playful subtlety which would make her take it as a personal compliment, though I was only thinking of that impostor, and longing to get at him, as I bowed and withdrew.
In another hour I was before Black Michael’s castle at Bock. These are lightning changes, I know—and the sovereignty of Trulyruralania was somewhat itinerant—but when a kingdom and a beautiful Princess are at stake, what are you to do? Fritz had begged me to take him along, but I arranged that he should come later, and go up unostentatiously in the lift. I was going by way of the moat. I was to succor the King, but I fear my real object was to get at Rupert of Glasgow.
I had noticed the day before that a large outside drain pipe, decreed by the Bock County Council, ran from the moat to the third floor of the donjon keep. I surmised that the King was imprisoned on that floor. Examining the pipe closely, I saw that it was really a pneumatic dispatch tube, for secretly conveying letters and dispatches from the castle through the moat beyond the castle walls. Its extraordinary size, however, gave me the horrible conviction that it was to be used to convey the dead body of the King to the moat. I grew cold with horror—but I was determined.
I crept up the pipe. As I expected, it opened funnel-wise into a room where the poor King was playing poker with Black Michael. It took me but a moment to dash through the window into the room, push the King aside, gag and bind Black Michael, and lower him by a stout rope into the pipe he had destined for another. Having him in my power, I lowered him until I heard his body splash in the water in the lower part of the pipe. Then I proceeded to draw him up again, intending to question him in regard to Rupert of Glasgow. But this was difficult, as his saturated clothing made him fit the smooth pipe closely. At last I had him partly up, when I was amazed at a rush of water from the pipe which flooded the room. I dropped him and pulled him up again with the same result. Then in a flash I saw it all. His body, acting like a piston in the pipe, had converted it into a powerful pump. Mad with joy, I rapidly lowered and pulled him up again and again, until the castle was flooded—and the moat completely drained! I had created the diversion I wished; the tenants of the castle were disorganized and bewildered in trying to escape from the deluge, and the moat was accessible to my friends. Placing the poor King on a table to be out of the water, and tying up his head in my handkerchief to disguise him from Michael’s guards, I drew my sword and plunged downstairs with the cataract in search of the miscreant Rupert. I reached the drawbridge, when I heard the sounds of tumult and was twice fired at,—once, as I have since learned, by my friends, under the impression that I was the escaping Rupert of Glasgow, and once by Black Michael’s myrmidons, under the belief that I was the King. I was struck by the fact that these resemblances were confusing and unfortunate! At this moment, however, I caught sight of a kilted figure leaping from a lower window into the moat. Some instinct impelled me to follow it. It rapidly crossed the moat and plunged into the forest, with me in pursuit. I gained upon it; suddenly it turned, and I found myself again confronted with myself—and apparently the King! But that very resemblance made me recognize the Scotch pretender, Rupert of Glasgow. Yet he would have been called a “braw laddie,” and his handsome face showed a laughing good humor, even while he opposed me, claymore in hand.
“Bide a wee, Maister Rupert Razorbill,” he said lightly, lowering his sword, “before we slit ane anither’s weasands. I’m no claimin’ any descent frae kings, and I’m no acceptin’ any auld wife’s clavers against my women forbears, as ye are! I’m just paid gude honest siller by Black Michael for the using of ma face and figure—sic time as his Majesty is tae worse frae trink! And I’m commeesioned frae Michael to ask ye what price ye would take to join me in performing these duties—turn and turn aboot. Eh, laddie—but he would pay ye mair than that daft beggar, Spitz.”
Rage and disgust overpowered me. “And this is my answer,” I said, rushing upon him.
I have said earlier in these pages that I was a “strong” swordsman. In point of fact, I had carefully studied in the transpontine theatres that form of melodramatic mediaeval sword-play known as “two up and two down.” To my disgust, however, this wretched Scotchman did not seem to understand it, but in a twinkling sent my sword flying over my head. Before I could recover it, he had mounted a horse ready saddled in the wood, and, shouting to me that he would take my “compleements” to the Princess, galloped away. Even then I would have pursued him afoot, but, hearing shouts behind me, I turned as Spitz and Fritz rode up.
“Has the King escaped to Kohlslau?” asked Fritz, staring at me.
“No,” I said, “but Rupert of Glasgow”—
“—Rupert of Glasgow,” growled Spitz. “We’ve settled him! He’s gagged and bound and is now on his way to the frontier in a close carriage.”
“Rupert—on his way to the frontier?” I gasped.
“Yes. Two of my men found him, disguised with a handkerchief over his face, trying to escape from the castle. And while we were looking for the King, whom we supposed was with you, they have sent the rascally Scotchman home.”
“Fool!” I gasped. “Rupert of Glasgow has just left me! You have deported your own king.” And overcome by my superhuman exertions, I sank unconscious to the ground.
When I came to, I found myself in a wagon lit, speeding beyond the Trulyruralania frontier. On my berth was lying a missive with the seal of the S’helpburgs. Tearing it open I recognized the handwriting of the Princess Flirtia.
MY DEAR RUPERT,—Owing to the confusion that arises from there being so many of you, I have concluded to accept the hand of the Duke Michael. I may not become a Queen, but I shall bring rest to my country, and Michael assures me in his playful manner that “three of a kind,” “even of the same color,” do not always win at poker. It will tranquilize you somewhat to know that the Lord Chancellor assures me that on examining the records of the dynasty he finds that my ancestor Rupert never left his kingdom during his entire reign, and that consequently your ancestress has been grossly maligned. I am sending typewritten copies of this to Rupert of Glasgow and the King. Farewell.
Once a year, at Christmastide, I receive a simple foreign hamper via Charing Cross, marked “Return empty.” I take it in silence to my own room, and there, opening it, I find—unseen by any other eyes but my own—a modest pate de foie gras, of the kind I ate with the Princess Flirtia. I take out the pate, replace the label, and have the hamper reconveyed to Charing Cross.