The Rassendylls-With a Word on the Elphbergs
when in the world you're going to do anything, Rudolf?" said my brother's wife.
"My dear Rose," I answered, laying down my egg-spoon, "why in the world should I do anything? My position is a comfortable
one. I have an income
for my wants (no one's income
is ever quite sufficient
, you know), I enjoy
an enviable social
position: I am brother to Lord Burlesdon, and brother-in-law to that charming
lady, his countess. Behold, it is enough!"
"You are nine-and-twenty," she observed, "and you've done nothing but-"
"Knock about? It is true. Our family doesn't need
to do things."
This of mine
Rose, for everybody knows (and therefore there can be no harm in referring to the fact
) that, pretty and accomplished
as she herself is, her family is hardly of the same standing as the Rassendylls. Besides her attractions, she possessed a large fortune
, and my brother Robert was wise
enough not to mind
about her ancestry
. Ancestry is, in fact
, a matter
concerning which the next observation
of Rose's has some truth.
"Good families are generally worse than any others," she said.
Upon this I stroked my hair: I knew quite well what she meant.
"I'm so glad Robert's is black!" she cried.
At this moment
Robert (who rises at seven and works before breakfast) came in. He glanced at his wife: her cheek was slightly flushed; he patted it caressingly.
"What's the matter
, my dear?" he asked.
"She objects to my doing nothing and having red hair," said I, in an injured tone
"Oh! of course he can't help his hair," admitted Rose.
"It generally crops out once in a generation
," said my brother. "So does the nose. Rudolf has got them both."
"I wish they didn't crop
out," said Rose, still flushed.
"I rather like them myself," said I, and, rising, I bowed to the portrait
of Countess Amelia.
My brother's wife uttered an exclamation
"I wish you'd take that picture away, Robert," said she.
"My dear!" he cried.
"Good heavens!" I added.
"Then it might
be forgotten," she continued.
"Hardly-with Rudolf about," said Robert, shaking his head.
"Why should it be forgotten?" I asked.
"Rudolf!" exclaimed my brother's wife, blushing very prettily.
I laughed, and went on with my egg. At least I had shelved the question of what (if anything) I ought to do. And, by way of closing the discussion-and also, I must admit
, of exasperating
little sister-in-law a trifle
"I rather like being an Elphberg myself."
When I read a story, I skip the explanations; yet the moment
I begin to write one, I find that I must have an explanation
. For it is manifest
that I must explain
why my sister-in-law was vexed
with my nose and hair, and why I ventured to call myself an Elphberg. For eminent
as, I must protest
, the Rassendylls have been for many generations, yet participation
in their blood of course does not, at first sight
of a connection
with the grander stock
of the Elphbergs or a claim
to be one of that Royal House. For what relationship
is there between Ruritania and Burlesdon, between the Palace at Strelsau or the Castle of Zenda and Number 305 Park Lane, W.?
Well then-and I must premise
that I am going, perforce, to rake
up the very scandal
which my dear Lady Burlesdon wishes forgotten-in the year 1733, George II. sitting then on the throne
, peace reigning for the moment
, and the King and the Prince of Wales being not yet at loggerheads, there came on a visit to the English Court a certain
prince, who was afterwards known to history as Rudolf the Third of Ruritania. The prince was a tall, handsome
young fellow, marked
(maybe marred, it is not for me to say) by a somewhat unusually long, sharp
nose, and a mass
of dark-red hair-in fact
, the nose and the hair which have stamped the Elphbergs time out of mind
. He stayed some months in England, where he was most courteously received; yet, in the end, he left rather under a cloud. For he fought a duel
(it was considered
highly well bred of him to waive
all question of his rank
) with a nobleman, well known in the society
of the day, not only for his own merits, but as the husband
of a very beautiful wife. In that duel
Prince Rudolf received a severe wound
, and, recovering therefrom, was adroitly smuggled off by the Ruritanian ambassador
, who had found him a pretty handful. The nobleman was not wounded in the duel
; but the morning being raw
on the occasion
of the meeting, he contracted a severe
chill, and, failing to throw
it off, he died some six months after the departure
of Prince Rudolf, without having found leisure
his relations with his wife-who, after another two months, bore
to the title
and estates of the family of Burlesdon. This lady was the Countess Amelia, whose picture my sister-in-law wished to remove
from the drawing-room in Park Lane; and her husband
was James, fifth Earl of Burlesdon and twenty-second Baron Rassendyll, both in the peerage of England, and a Knight of the Garter. As for Rudolf, he went back to Ruritania, married a wife, and ascended the throne
, whereon his progeny
in the direct line have sat from then till
this very hour-with one short interval
. And, finally, if you walk through
the picture galleries at Burlesdon, among the fifty portraits or so of the last century
and a half, you will find five or six, including that of the sixth earl
by long, sharp
noses and a quantity
of dark-red hair; these five or six have also blue eyes, whereas among the Rassendylls dark eyes are the commoner.
That is the explanation
, and I am glad to have finished it: the blemishes on honourable lineage
are a delicate subject
, and certainly
we hear so much about is the finest scandalmonger in the world; it laughs at discretion
, and writes strange
entries between the lines of the "Peerages".
It will be observed that my sister-in-law, with a want of logic
that must have been peculiar
to herself (since we are no longer allowed to lay it to the charge of her sex), treated my complexion
almost as an offence for which I was responsible
, hastening to assume
from that external
sign inward qualities of which I protest
my entire innocence
; and this unjust inference
she sought to buttress
by pointing to the uselessness of the life I had led. Well, be that as it may, I had picked up a good deal of pleasure and a good deal of knowledge
. I had been to a German school and a German university
, and spoke
German as readily and perfectly as English; I was thoroughly
at home in French; I had a smattering
of Italian and enough Spanish to swear
by. I was, I believe, a strong, though hardly fine swordsman and a good shot. I could ride anything that had a back to sit on; and my head was as cool a one as you could find, for all its flaming cover. If you say that I ought to have spent my time in useful labour, I am out of Court and have nothing to say, save that my parents had no business to leave me two thousand pounds a year and a roving disposition
between you and Robert," said my sister-in-law, who often (bless her!) speaks on a platform
, and oftener still as if she were on one, "is that he recognizes the duties of his position, and you see the opportunities of yours."
"To a man of spirit
, my dear Rose," I answered, "opportunities are duties."
"Nonsense!" said she, tossing her head; and after a moment
she went on: "Now, here's Sir Jacob Borrodaile offering you exactly what you might
"A thousand thanks!" I murmured.
"He's to have an Embassy in six months, and Robert says he is sure that he'll take you as an attache
. Do take it, Rudolf-to please me."
Now, when my sister-in-law puts the matter
in that way, wrinkling her pretty brows, twisting her little hands, and growing wistful
in the eyes, all on account
of an idle
scamp like myself, for whom she has no natural responsibility
, I am visited with compunction
. Moreover, I thought
that I could pass the time in the position suggested with some tolerable amusement
. Therefore I said:
"My dear sister, if in six months' time no unforeseen obstacle
has arisen, and Sir Jacob invites me, hang me if I don't go with Sir Jacob!"
"Oh, Rudolf, how good of you! I am glad!"
"Where's he going to?"
"He doesn't know yet; but it's sure to be a good Embassy."
"Madame," said I, "for your sake I'll go, if it's no more than a beggarly Legation. When I do a thing, I don't do it by halves."
, then, was given; but six months are six months, and seem an eternity
, and, inasmuch as they stretched between me and my prospective industry
attaches are industrious
; but I know not, for I never became attache
to Sir Jacob or anybody else), I cast about for some desirable mode
of spending them. And it occurred to me suddenly
that I would visit Ruritania. It may seem strange
that I had never visited that country yet; but my father (in spite
of a sneaking fondness
for the Elphbergs, which led him to give me, his second son, the famous
Elphberg name of Rudolf) had always been averse
from my going, and, since his death, my brother, prompted by Rose, had accepted the family tradition
which taught that a wide berth
was to be given to that country. But the moment
Ruritania had come into my head I was eaten up with a curiosity
to see it. After all, red hair and long noses are not confined
to the House of Elphberg, and the old story seemed a preposterously insufficient reason
for debarring myself from acquaintance
with a highly interesting and important kingdom
, one which had played no small part in European history, and might
do the like again under the sway
of a young and vigorous ruler
, such as the new King was rumoured to be. My determination
was clinched by reading in The Times that Rudolf the Fifth was to be crowned at Strelsau in the course of the next three weeks, and that great magnificence
was to mark the occasion
. At once I made up my mind
to be present, and began my preparations. But, inasmuch as it has never been my practice
my relatives with an itinerary
of my journeys and in this case I anticipated opposition
to my wishes, I gave out that I was going for a ramble
in the Tyrol-an old haunt
-and propitiated Rose's wrath
by declaring that I intended to study
problems of the interesting which dwells in that neighbourhood.
"Perhaps," I hinted darkly, "there may be an outcome
of the expedition
"What do you mean
?" she asked.
"Well," said I carelessly, "there seems a gap
be filled by an exhaustive
"Oh! will you write a book?" she cried, clapping her hands. "That would be splendid
, wouldn't it, Robert?"
"It's the best of introductions to political
life nowadays," observed my brother, who has, by the way, introduced himself in this manner several
times over. Burlesdon on Ancient Theories and Modern Facts and The Ultimate Outcome, by a Political Student, are both works of recognized eminence
But this time she could get no more than a qualified promise
out of me. To tell the truth, I would have wagered a handsome sum
that the story of my expedition
that summer would stain no paper and spoil
not a single pen. And that shows how little we know what the future
holds; for here I am, fulfilling my qualified promise
, and writing, as I never thought
to write, a book-though it will hardly serve
as an introduction
life, and has not a jot
to do with the Tyrol.
Neither would it, I fear, please Lady Burlesdon, if I were to submit
it to her critical
eye-a step which I have no intention