Welcome to Part Ten of our current Tale for Our Time - Anthony Hope's novel of honor, duty and the most audacious impersonation in literature, The Prisoner of Zenda. In tonight's episode, a turncoat servant of Black Michael's explains to Rudolf Rassendyll where the real King is being held - and how they propose to dispose of him:
So soon as the door should be in danger of being forced, then Rupert Hentzau or Detchard (for one of these two was always there) should leave the others to hold it as long as they could, and himself pass into the inner room, and, without more ado, kill the King who lay there, well-treated indeed, but without weapons, and with his arms confined in fine steel chains, which did not allow him to move his elbow more than three inches from his side. Thus, before the outer door were stormed, the King would be dead. And his body? For his body would be evidence as damning as himself.
'Nay, sir,' said Johann, 'his Highness has thought of that. While the two hold the outer room, the one who has killed the King unlocks the bars in the square window (they turn on a hinge). The window now gives no light, for its mouth is choked by a great pipe of earthenware; and this pipe, which is large enough to let pass through it the body of a man, passes into the moat, coming to an end immediately above the surface of the water, so that there is no perceptible interval between water and pipe. The King being dead, his murderer swiftly ties a weight to the body, and, dragging it to the window, raises it by a pulley (for, lest the weight should prove too great, Detchard has provided one) till it is level with the mouth of the pipe. He inserts the feet in the pipe, and pushes the body down. Silently, without splash or sound, it falls into the water and thence to the bottom of the moat, which is twenty feet deep thereabouts...''Does the King know this?' I asked.
'I and my brother,' answered Johann, 'put up the pipe, under the orders of my Lord of Hentzau. He was on guard that day, and the King asked my lord what it meant. "Faith,' he answered, with his airy laugh, "it's a new improvement on the ladder of Jacob, whereby, as you have read, sire, men pass from the earth to heaven. We thought it not meet that your Majesty should go, in case, sire, you must go, by the common route. So we have made you a pretty private passage where the vulgar cannot stare at you or incommode your passage. That, sire, is the meaning of that pipe."'
It saddens me that what in 1894 was a universally understood cultural reference even to non-believers now requires footnoting. So here it is - Genesis 28:
And Jacob went out from Beersheba, and went toward Haran.
And he lighted upon a certain place, and tarried there all night, because the sun was set; and he took of the stones of that place, and put them for his pillows, and lay down in that place to sleep.
And he dreamed, and behold a ladder set up on the earth, and the top of it reached to heaven: and behold the angels of God ascending and descending on it.
Members of The Mark Steyn Club can hear this episode of The Prisoner of Zenda simply by clicking here and logging-in. Earlier episodes can be found here. Janet, one of our Founding Members, is enjoying this one:
This story is my absolute favorite so far. Every evening I resist the urge to just buy and read the book. I hope I'm not breaking the rules, but my 12-year-olds are hooked too. We listen as we drive around to school and soccer. What a treat to share with them!
If you've yet to hear any of our first four Tales for Our Time, you can do so by joining The Mark Steyn Club. Or, if you need a special gift for someone, why not give your loved one a Gift Membership and start him or her off with this quartet of cracking yarns? And don't forget to join us tomorrow for another installment of an Anthony Hope classic.