I was eating breakfast in
the dining room of my brother's house one sunny morning, thinking about what I
would do that week, when my brother's wife Rose came into the room.
"Rudolf, you're 29
years old," she said. "Are you ever going to do anything
answered, putting down my egg spoon, "why should I do anything? I have
nearly enough money to do anything I want to (no one ever has quite enough
money to do that, of course), and I enjoy an important position in society: my
brother's Lord Burlesdon and you are a countess."
"But you've done
"Be lazy? It's true.
I'm a member of the Rassendyll family and our family don't need to do
This annoyed Rose, because
her family were rich but less important than the Rassendylls.
At this moment, my brother
Lord Burlesdon (who we were happy to call simply Robert) came into the room.
"Robert, I'm so happy
you're back!" cried Rose.
"What's the matter, my
dear?" Robert asked her.
"She's angry because
she thinks I don't do anything," I explained to my brother.
At this point, I should
explain that I had not been lazy all my life. I had studied hard and learned a
lot when I was at a German school and German university. I spoke German as well
as I spoke English, and I also knew how to speak French, Italian and Spanish. I
was good with a gun and a strong swordsman. I was also very good at
riding a horse.
"It's not just your red
hair that makes you different from your brother," said Rose. "He also
realises his position in society has responsibilities. You only see
opportunities in yours."
"To a man like me,
opportunities are responsibilities," I explained.
"Good, because I have
some news for you," said Rose." Sir Jacob Borrodaile tells me he'll
offer you a real opportunity. He's going to be an ambassador in six
months' time, and he says he's happy for you to work for him. I hope you'll
take this job, Rudolf."
My sister-in-law has a way
of asking people to do thing which is impossible to refuse. Moreover, I
thought this job sounded quite interesting, so I said, "If in six months'
time I'm in a position to take this job, then I'll certainly say yes."
"Oh, Rudolf, how good
of you!" said Rose.
"Where will he be
working?" I asked.
"Sir Jacob doesn't know
which country it will be, but he's sure it'll be a good embassy."
"For you I'll do it,
even if it's a terrible embassy," I replied.
Now I had made my promise to
Rose, but there were still six months to go before the job would start, and I
began to think about what I could do in this time. I decided that I would visit
Ruritania, a small country in the middle of Europe.
My family have always had an
interest in that country because in 1733, Countess Amelia Rassendyll married a
member of the Ruritanian royal family, the Elphbergs. In fact my brother
has paintings of her and her descendants on his walls: many of them have
the same red hair and straight noses as the Elphbergs; I am the latest one to
have the appearance of the Ruritanian royal family.
My decision was helped a few
days later when I read in The Times newspaper that Rudolf the Fifth was
to become King of Ruritania in the next three weeks, and that amazing
celebrations were planned for this joyous occasion. I thought how
fantastic it would be to see such an event and began to prepare for my journey.
I do not like to tell people
where 1go on my travels, so I told Rose that I was going walking in the Alps. I did not want her to think I was being lazy
either, so I told her I was going to
write a book about social problems in the country.
"You're going to write
a book? That would be such a good thing to do, wouldn't it, Robert?" said
"Yes, indeed. Writing a
book's the best way to get into politics," agreed Robert, and he should
know, as he has written many books himself.
"You're right," I
said to them both. However, I had no plan to really write a book, which shows
how little we know about the future. Because here I am now, writing a book as I
had promised to do, even if the book has nothing to do with the social problems
in the Alps. But let me begin near the start
of my journey to Ruritania.
My Uncle William always said
that no man should ever pass through Paris
without spending twenty-four hours in the city, so I took his advice and booked
a night at The Continental Hotel. As soon as I had checked in, I called on some
old friends that I knew in the French capital: George Featherly, who worked at
the embassy, and Bertram Bertrand, who was now a famous journalist in the city.
That evening, we all ate in a restaurant and they told me all about the latest
exciting events in Paris.
"We've had quite a few
important people visiting the city recently," said Bertram.
"Anyone I'd know?"
"Well, I met Antoinette
de Mauban today," Bertram replied. "You've probably heard of her.
She's a lady who's well known for her wealth and ambition. But she's leaving Paris today, we don't
know where she's going to next."
"So why did she come to
"She was a guest of the
Duke of Strelsau," said George." I met him at the embassy yesterday.
He's the half-brother to the King of Ruritania. People say he was his father's
favourite son. He's gone back for the coronation, although I don't think he'll
enjoy it very much because he probably wishes he were the King. I don't think
he likes being only a Duke."
"I hear he's a clever
man, though," said Bertram.
"He's extremely clever,
I'd say," agreed George.
The next day, George came
with me to the station and I bought a ticket to my next stop, Dresden. I did not tell him that I was going
to Ruritania. If I had, the news would have gone immediately to Bertram and
then it would have been in all the newspapers within days.
Just as I was about to get
on the train, George suddenly smiled and walked away to talk to a beautiful,
tall and fashionably dressed woman of about thirty who was standing at
the ticket office with two younger women. I thought these must be her servants.
"You have an important
person to travel with," George told me when he returned a few minutes
later. "That's Antoinette de Mauban
and she's also going to Dresden."
Paris was soon behind me. It was a long and boring journey
and I wondered if I would see Antoinette de Mauban in the dining car
when I ate in the train that evening, or perhaps at breakfast the next morning.
However, I did not see the lady again until the following day, when both she
and I got on the next train from Dresden
to Ruritania. She was further up the train, however, and did not see me.
A few hours later, the train
arrived at the Ruritanian border where we stopped so the guards could check our
passports. I was surprised when the guards stared at me and my passport
for some time before letting me into the country. Once in Ruritania, I bought a
newspaper and read that the King's coronation was to be in two days' time,
which was much earlier than I had thought. The newspaper described the
excitement in the country and in particular the capital city, Strelsau, where
it said all the hotels were full with people who wanted to see the event. On
reading this, I decided it would be best to stop at Zenda, a small town eighty
kilometres from the capital, and about ten kilometres from the border. Here I
could walk in the hills and see the town's famous castle, then I could
take the train for the day to Strelsau to see the coronation. As I got off the
train at Zenda, I saw Antoinette de Mauban, who remained on the train for its
journey to the capital, but she did not look at me.
I was welcomed at the inn in
Zenda by an old woman who ran it with her two daughters. She said she was not
very interested in what happened in the capital, but she loved the Duke of
Strelsau, who she called Duke Michael. He was the man who was responsible for
the land around Zenda and its castle. In fact, the hotel owner said she wished
the Duke was the new King and not his brother.
"We all know Duke
Michael," she explained. "He's always lived in Ruritania and he cares
about the people, so people like him. As for the King, well, he's almost a
stranger. He's been abroad for most of his life and not many people even know what
he looks like. Now the King's staying in a hunting lodge in the forest,
very near to Zenda. From there he'll travel to the capital for his
I was interested to hear
this, and decided I would walk in the forest the next day so that I might see
"I wish he'd stay there
in the forest," continued the woman. "People say he only likes
hunting and good food. He should let the Duke become our King. And there are
many others who think the same."
"Well I don't like Duke
Michael," said her older daughter. "They say the King has red hair,
just like you!"
"Many men have red hair
like me," I laughed.
"How do you know the
King has red hair?" the old woman asked her daughter.
"Johann, the Duke's
servant, told me," she explained. "He's seen the King at the hunting
"But why's the King
here, if it's the Duke's land?" I asked.
"The Duke invited him,
sir," explained the old lady. "The Duke's in Strelsau, preparing for
"So they are good
"I don't know if you
can be good friends if you want the same thing."
"What do you
"Duke Michael would
like to be King, too, I'm sure."
"Well!" I said.
"I feel quite sorry for the Duke, but it's right that the older brother
"Who's talking of the
Duke?" said a deep voice from outside the door.
"We have a guest,
Johann," called the old lady, as a man entered the room. When he saw me,
he took off his hat and stepped back in surprise, as though he had seen
"What's the matter,
Johann?" asked the old lady. "This gentleman's come to our country to
see the coronation."
"It's the red
hair," said one of the daughters. "We don't often see it in our
country unless you're part of the King's family, the Elphbergs. Many of them
have red hair."
The man continued to stare at
me, but said, "Good evening, sir. I'm sorry, I didn't expect to see any
new guests here."
"Don't worry," I
said. "It's late and time I went to bed. I wish you all a good night.
Thank you, ladies, for our conversation." I stood up to go to my room,
when Johann suddenly said, "Sir, have you ever seen our King?"
"No, I've never seen
him, but I hope to do so on Wednesday at the coronation."
Johann said no more, but I
felt his eyes on me as I walked up the stairs.
The next morning, Johann
seemed much more relaxed. When he heard that I was going to Strelsau, he said I
could stay at his sister's house. She was married to a wealthy trader and she
had invited him to stay with them for the coronation, but he was unable to go.
I was very happy to have this opportunity and accepted his offer, so he said he
would contact his sister at once and tell her to expect me that day.
I decided, however, that I
still wanted to see the forest where the King was staying, so first I planned
to walk for sixteen kilometres through the forest to the next station along the
line, where I could catch a train to the capital.
I did not tell Johann about
this plan, as I did not think it would be important if I arrived at his
sister's later in the day. So I sent my luggage on to the station and said
goodbye to the old lady and her daughters, and set off up the hill towards the
castle. After that, it was a short walk to get into the forest.
Half an hour later, I
reached the castle. It was very old but well built, with a moat all
around it. Behind it was a large modem mansion, which was used by the
Duke of Strelsau as his country home. The mansion was reached by a wide road,
but the old castle could only be reached by a drawbridge between it and
the mansion. I was pleased to see that the Duke had such a well-defended house,
even if he were not to become King.
Soon I reached the dark forest and I walked for about
an hour, pleased that the tall trees gave me cool shade: not much sun
reached the ground through the many leaves. It was a beautiful place and after
a time I decided to rest by lying against one of the enormous trees. It was so
quiet and peaceful in the forest that I soon fell into a deep sleep, forgetting
all about the train I should have caught to Strelsau and my luggage that would
be waiting at the station. I was just dreaming about living in the Castle of Zenda when a voice woke me:
"Why look at him! It's amazing! He looks just
like the King!"
I opened my eyes slowly and found two men looking at
me. Both carried guns and were dressed for hunting. One of them was short but looked
very tough with light blue eyes, and he looked like a soldier. The other
was younger, thin and of medium height, and he looked like a gentleman. I later
found out that my guesses were both correct.
The older man walked up to me and raised his hat to me
politely, so I stood up.
"He's about the same height as the King, too!"
he said. "This really is extraordinary. What's your name, sir?"
"Perhaps you can tell me what your names are first?"
I asked them.
The gentleman stepped forward with a smile and said,
"Of course. This is Colonel Sapt, and my name's Fritz von Tarlenheim. We
both work for the King of Ruritania."
I shook their hands and told them, "I'm Rudolf
Rassendyll. I'm a traveller from England and was an officer in the
"Well, we're officers for our King, so we
understand each other well!" said Tarlenheim.
"Rassendyll, Rassendyll," said Colonel Sapt
quietly. "I know! Are you one of the Burlesdons?"
"My brother's the new Lord Burlesdon," I
explained. "So, do I really look like the King?"
"You could be
twins," said Fritz.
"Although you look like identical twins,
you do not have identical personalities or skills. You two seem very
different. If you were an officer for the Queen's army, Rassendyll, you must be
good with a sword!" laughed Sapt.
"Is the King not a fighting man?" I asked.
"The King likes to live well," said Fritz.
"Let's say he prefers eating to action, but he's a kind man and he's our
King. We'd do anything for him."
"Perhaps we are alike then," I said,
"because I like to have an easy life, too!"
At this moment, a voice came from the trees behind us.
"Fritz? Where are you, Fritz?"
Fritz looked worried, and then said quietly to me,
"It's the King! He's coming here now."
A young man then came out from behind a tree in the
forest and stood in front of us. As I looked at him, I gave out a loud cry at
the same time as he stood back in amazement to see me. Except perhaps for a
centimetre or two difference in height, we looked so alike that the King of
Ruritania might have been me, Rudolf Rassendyll, and I might have been him, the
King of Ruritania. Halim heder 01223284212