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Condensed Novels: New Burlesques By Bret Harte Characters: 10566

Updated: 2017-12-04 00:02

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 he 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, bad 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 wa

s 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!

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