The Wednesday papers were a gloomy read. The Congress of Strasbourg had forced a vote and between the British, Germans and Italians, a resolution had carried. The Russians had abstained and only the Austrians were holding out for further negotiation.
For the peace of Europe, the Congress called on the Council of Regency to proclaim His Highness Duke Leopold of Thuringia as king of Ruritania. The claims of the English pretender, the earl of Burlesdon, were dismissed. The only thing the Austrian delegation could do was delay the ultimatum to the Council to implement the decision or face armed intervention. But it would follow soon, so much was clear.
‘Now we’re for it,’ said Bob to Gus. ‘A few days and the German army will be at our doors. The Austrians can’t resist a resolution like that. If only the Russians had not abstained, it would have been two against three. The way things stand now, the Austrians look as though they wish to undermine the peace of Europe.’
Oskar’s face was grim. ‘Any news from the frontier, brother?’ he asked the prince.
‘The Germans already have three army corps in Saxony and Bavaria. They won’t need much more than that to batter their way to Strelsau. I imagine that when they order a partial mobilisation we will know the game is up. The orders to mobilise our army and reserves are awaiting signature on Ostberg’s desk.’
‘Will that happen?’ asked an anxious Gus.
‘I wonder. Today will probably tell.’
They were sitting in the front breakfast room of the Tarlenheim palace, which looked down on the Raathaus Platz. Gus was standing with a cup of coffee gazing out the window. He was struck by the knots of people gathered around the newspaper sellers and kiosks. He knew what that meant. Strelsau was an increasingly restive city. More police had been deployed in front of the palace in the night.
When Bob’s party reached the archbishop’s palace, they found the square before it thronged with people. A company of infantry was already lined up at the entrance to the consistory. The carriage had to force its way through the growing crowd, which surged forward as Bob climbed out. There were scattered cheers. Bob waved his hat, and the cheers grew, though Gus heard some catcalls too.
‘They think a decision will be reached today, do they?’ Gus observed.
‘Yes, I believe they do,’ replied Oskar.
The consistory court was full, the bishops all assembled except for the cardinal. When he finally appeared after another half hour, he was clearly unhappy. Gus had the grace to feel sorry for him. He was not a man for the times, and his memory in history would always be tainted by whatever decision he announced that Wednesday. For a while he slumped in his throne and appeared to be praying. Eventually he stood, and so did all the other bishops. Gus sat up, guessing the moment of decision had arrived.
‘My lords, excellencies and gentlemen. Last night I meditated long in prayer with the Lord and then met with my fellow bishops. We have all heard the evidence and it falls to me to sum up the feeling of the church in our land of Ruritania.
‘On the matter of bastardy, we were asked by the procurator to consider the injustice of the status of illicit children. The case was made with eloquence but it is not one on which we are competent to pronounce, it being a matter for a General Council of the Church.
‘On the matter of the individual case, the illegitimacy of a child of the late Rudolf III, most pious and steadfast king of Ruritania, we do have competence. We have heard how in foreign lands bastardisation has been suppressed at need. The need was the mere will of a king in consultation with his bishops. Our late queen of blessed memory, Flavia, wished the same process to be transacted here in favour of Robert earl of Burlesdon, illegitimate descendant of King Rudolf III. Should we sanction this we would create a superior claim for Lord Robert over that of the duke of Thuringia.’
The cardinal paused, his hands on his notes shaking. ‘The precedent we were asked to consider does not help us. The legitimisation of the Beauforts did not and was not intended to alter the succession to the throne of England in its day, though that did happen in a later generation. It is not the task of the church to take actions which affect the disposal of royal thrones. We cannot therefore accept the claim and we do not legitimate his line.’
A storm of voices erupted from the hall before he had finished his statement and the cardinal fell back in his throne. Bob had stood up, frowning and pale. Many others also were standing in the hall, some shouting at the cardinal, some talking loudly. The bishops began filing out, looking fearful. They might well be alarmed. As the news spread, stones began smashing the windows above them and splinters of glass came raining down. The roar of the Strelsau mob could be heard over everything.
Oskar grabbed Gus’s arm. ‘This way, Gussie, I know where to go.’ The Tarlenheims, Ostberg and Bob were led through a side door and out into a scullery yard, where the roar of the crowd in the square became more distant as the mass of the palace tended to block it out. In the stable yard beyond, an escort of cavalry was waiting with two coaches. ‘To the royal palace!’ Oskar shouted and they lurched off.
Gus sat next to a stunned-looking Bobby in his carriage. ‘So is that it?’ he asked.
Bob shook his head. ‘I don’t know,’ was all he could say.
They rattled through the backstreets of the Altstadt and along the left bank of the Starel, crossing at the Heinrichsbrücke. A few minutes later they dashed up through the Volksgarten and into the Reitschule.
Some orders had been issued by the secret counsels of the Reichsräthe in response to the cardinal’s decision, so much was clear. A regiment of guard infantry was marching in column past the palace, with a battery of artillery toiling behind. As Bob and his friends got out of the carriage, they found the palace stable yard full of troops.
‘This way,’ cried Prince Rudolf, hurrying them into the Hofgarten towards the Residenz. They were taken up to the east wing, through several state rooms and into the throne room itself. Above the door opposite the throne, Gus saw a huge canvas depicting the coronation of Rudolf V, and the supreme irony of the subject washed over him. For the man being crowned there was a Rassendyll, not an Elphberg. And here was that man’s nephew with the crown once again poised above his head.
‘Take that seat, sir. It is yours for now.’ Prince Rudolf ushered him towards the dais.
Bob hesitated, then climbed the steps and sat upon the throne of Ruritania, the arms of the kingdom emblazoned behind him and a canopy of state hanging above him. Gus had time to think that he looked as though he belonged there.
Several men filed in and stood before him. General von Tirkenau stepped forward. ‘Sir, the cardinal has pronounced against you, as also has the Congress. But to most of Ruritania that means nothing. Duke Leopold has not been proclaimed king and he will not be. For her servants, the wishes of the late queen mean everything, and both the general staff and the Council will heed those wishes. The mob in the streets also wants you for their king. We all do.’ The general fell to his knees together with the other men assembled, including Gus. The general declared in a clear voice, ‘Long live Robert Rudolf, king of Ruritania!’ He was echoed loudly by the others present.
For a while Bob sat silent. Then he stood. Although Gus could see the strain on his face, he could see no doubts whatsoever.
‘Gentlemen, I thank you for your support. I thank you also for your loyalty to the house of Elphberg, of which I consider myself a member despite everything that councils and cardinals may say. It was Queen Flavia’s wish that I succeed her, that is true. But in the time I spent with her, I did not feel she wanted my succession at the heavy price this land would pay were we to do what you are now advocating. Think of it: the bombardment of cities, the loss of thousands of young men, the siege of Strelsau. All so that I may sit on this throne. It will not happen.
‘The queen believed that one day an Elphberg would again be enthroned here, and I honour her vision. That Elphberg will not be I, however. Oh, make no mistake, the Rassendyll claim is not forgotten, but I must leave it to my children to pursue in different days and in a different world.
‘You have called me king, and I thank you for the great honour you do me. I believe the greatness of a king lies in his love for his people, and his care for their welfare. Were I truly king, the peace and prosperity of Ruritania would be everything to me. But that will best be served now by my not being king.
‘This then is what you must do. You will issue an act of the Council accepting Leopold as king and ordering his proclamation. Then you will have my cousin Flavia buried in the state appropriate to the great queen she was. I will attend the funeral, and after that leave this land … perhaps for good, though I hope not.’ Bob paused, tears now in his eyes. ‘My dear friends, you have all been so good to me, yet this hand of the game is played out at last. You have been great patriots, and I honour you. Now you must say with me: Long live Leopold, king of Ruritania.’
The men bowed their heads, but did not say the words. General von Tirkenau got to his feet, and said simply, ‘As the king commands.’
None of the Council could be brought to make the proclamation of King Leopold, so it was done from the Raathaus balcony by the general officer commanding the Strelsau district. It was not possible to do it at the traditional site in the Altstadt, as the mob had barricaded the Erbischofsplatz and the troops refused the order to clear them away.
Bob, Gus and Oskar watched from one of the tall front windows of the Tarlenheim palace. Gus noticed that not a single one of the hundreds of males in the square took off his hat when it was declared that ‘the high and mighty prince Leopold, duke of Thuringia’ was now most pious and steadfast king of Ruritania. The officers of the artillery batteries lined up for the royal salute in Bila Palacz would not give the order to fire, leaving the troops to limber up the guns and return to their barracks.
‘So, the end of a great adventure?’ Gus wondered.
‘No, the beginning of a greater one,’ Bob smiled ruefully. ‘What’s happening with cousin Leopold anyway?’
Oskar shrugged. ‘He’d best stay at Zenda until the capital settles. Prince Ostberg has gone down to tell him that, and I hope he listens. Soon enough he’ll have a court that will give him advice more to his liking, I have no doubt.’
Gus asked, ‘When’s the queen’s funeral going to happen?’
Oskar replied, ‘Tomorrow. The preparations have been complete for over a week in any case. It will help quell the mob in the Altstadt. They will leave the streets this afternoon when they know the queen is to be brought up the hill to lie before the high altar of the cathedral. The vespers for the dead will be said tonight and then the all-night vigil of psalms will continue till mattins.’
‘So will you be leaving tomorrow or the day after, Bob?’
‘Tomorrow evening. A special train will take me quietly from the Westbahnhof to Munich, where I become a private citizen once more. And what will you be doing, Gussie?’
Gus gave a sidelong look at Oskar. ‘I’m not ready to leave Strelsau yet, Bobby.’
‘I rather supposed not. Look, I thought this out some time ago. I have already talked to James, and he is determined to stay on here. You remember I mentioned my estate at Hentzau, how it needs someone to manage it properly, a permanent agent with enough of a budget to do some serious improvements to the place? That would make it worth far more than it is at the moment. You could be that man, Gussie!’
‘Oh! My word. I had not thought of that. You seriously would employ me?’
‘I can think of no one better, dear Gussie. You and James could do a very good job of maintaining both castle and estate.’
Oskar laughed. ‘And on top of that, James will be very well employed collecting intelligence about current politics and sending it on to England. The fight is by no means over. These Thuringians are insensitive fools. They have few friends now, they’ll have even fewer soon enough. It’s good news for Marek too. You’ll need a valet, Gussie. A manager of such a large estate is a considerable man.’
Gus found the heart to grin. ‘Then I’ll do it, though you know why I really want to stay here, Bobby.’
‘Yes, well, I’m always ready to further the cause of love and romance alongside my own advantage. I know you’ll do a good job for me.’
As they left the window, and Oskar walked from the room, Bob pulled Gus back. ‘There is one other thing.’
‘The crown of Tassilo?’
‘Yes. You will become its custodian. The queen said it must not leave Ruritania. You must keep it safe till the day it’s needed, if not by me, then by one of my children.’
‘You think I will be here that long?’
‘I don’t know. But if you do leave, you must find another guardian to replace you. You understand?’
‘Yes I do, and it is a great honour.’
‘Well, Sir Gussie, you have earned it.’
‘And what about you, dear Bobby? What will you do back in England?’
‘Interesting thought. Here I am, down off the clouds of statecraft and ambition, with nothing to do other than to run the estate and speak in the House of Lords every fifteen years or so. But I suppose I will try to take up my painting again. Whether I’m good at it or not, it gives me a sort of peace and serenity. I could do with more of that at the moment.’
‘And Kitzi?’ Gus smiled.
‘I wonder. I shall see what the disappointment of her hopes over Ruritania does to her. If she loses interest in me, I’ll know what sort of person she is. On the other hand, if she is sympathetic, I might just get round to finishing her portrait after all.’ Bob smiled and went out.
Gus threw himself down on a sofa and stared at the ceiling. Was this his heart’s desire? He definitely wanted to stay with Oskar, and Bobby had generously offered him a perfect way to do just that. Even his mother could hardly object; after all, it was gainful employment fit for a gentleman. He gave a quirky grin to himself. He certainly did not have any better ideas or offers, and he had both a lover and many good friends in Ruritania. Yes, he would do it.
There was an awkward moment in the cathedral when the cortege reached the west door. The Council had agreed that Robert, Lord Burlesdon, had to be the chief mourner to Queen Flavia. In deciding this, they were making their opinion of the cardinal’s judgement perfectly plain. As the large triple coffin was manoeuvred through the great door by the pallbearers, Bob followed, hat in hand.
On entering the nave, he encountered a stony-faced Cardinal Windischgratz. Bob made no offer to salute his ring, although he did bow slightly and received a similar acknowledgement in return. He occupied the chief mourner’s chair throughout the solemn ceremony.
At the conclusion of the communion, the draped coffin was lifted from its catafalque by eight Life Guard officers. They slowly carried it after the processional cross through the screen into the north choir aisle, where they gently laid it on beams, ready for lowering into the open shaft. First the crown was taken off the top, after which the Elphberg royal standard was removed, solemnly folded and handed over to the cathedral treasurer. The red lion on gold would fly over Strelsau no more. The beams were removed and the coffin began its slow descent into the crypt awaiting it. From where he stood, Gus could see below, crowned by a wreath of fresh red roses, the coffin of Rudolf V. It was the end of the dead king’s long wait for his queen to join him. He wondered what Bob felt at the sight of his uncle’s final resting place.
When all was done and the ropes removed, the soldiers stepped back and the chief herald of Ruritania stepped forward to conclude the ancient rite with the conclamatio, the recital in Latin of the dead queen’s titles:
Altissima et potentissima principissa, Flavia, dei gratia piissima constantissimaque regina Ruritaniae, ducissa Mittenheimensis, magistrissa ordinis militaris rosae rubeosae.
Then, as the echoes died, the herald broke his black staff of office over his knee and hurled it down into the open tomb, to be followed by broken rods of the other officials of the late queen’s household standing behind him. Bob leaned over and dropped a matching wreath of roses on the queen’s coffin, then cast a handful of soil upon it. The bishop of Luchau censed and sprinkled the grave, and Queen Flavia was laid to her final rest.
Much though he mourned the queen, Gus was even more affected by the departure that followed. He took the closed carriage with Bob and they rattled down the back streets of the Altstadt, escorted now by only two mounted policemen and Captain Antonin, faithful till the end of his mission. They reached the Westbahnhof almost anonymously. The train was waiting at the Frachtenbahnhof, the detached sidings away from the main station. There was to be a minimum of fuss over Bob’s departure.
A few men were awaiting the carriage’s arrival. The Tarlenheim brothers had left the cathedral early and were all four present; General von Tirkenau stood beside them. Bob solemnly shook hands with each of the five and said some final words of thanks. Then he embraced Gus for a long time. ‘Write often, and I expect to see you in Burlesdon in maybe six months.’
‘Yes, Bobby, I’ll be there. It won’t be the same without you, y’know.’
‘What an adventure though, eh? Who would have thought a walking tour would take us so far and to such wonderful places!’
‘We must do it again, Bobby.’
‘We most certainly must.’
They separated, both with tears in their eyes. Bob mounted the railway carriage, the whistle shrieked and the train pulled out. Gus, followed by the general and the Tarlenheims, lifted his hat and kept it raised until the train disappeared round a bend.
‘It’s a bit of a dump, sir,’ complained Marek, his nose wrinkling.
‘You’ve got too used to the Tarlenheim palace, Marek. Hentzau is an ancient and distinguished castle of a formerly great and noble house. Admittedly, it’s been quite a while since anyone bought new curtains …’
‘… or any curtains at all, for that matter.’
‘Yes, and the furniture is a bit too seventeenth-century for my tastes, but when the money becomes available we will be able to do better.’
Marek grinned. He was not in fact unhappy, being a young man of a sanguine and optimistic turn of mind. Every new place was to him a land of opportunity, though admittedly most of the opportunities that interested him ended in bed with another man. It was probably a good idea for him to get out of the capital, as he had too many connections to its seedy underworld. But he had not by any means resisted Gus’s move into the country.
‘We already have a pretty reasonable cook in Frau Bechmann, whom I’ve asked to recruit a few maids, one for the kitchen and two for upstairs. James will run the house as steward, and you, my eccentric little protégé, will be the valet and footman. We need two more gardeners, but we had better wait for Bob’s banker’s draft to arrive before we recruit any more staff.’
‘Pity,’ breathed Marek.
‘You have hopes then?’
‘I’ve heard about gardener’s boys, sir.’
‘You should not believe all you hear. I won’t employ anyone under fifty in any case.’
‘Oh, sir!’ Marek pouted, then grinned again.
‘This is a small town, my lad,’ Gus warned, suddenly feeling absurd in his affectation of superiority, ‘and you must control yourself or you will get into serious trouble. This is not the big city where no one cares what you do. Can’t you find someone steady to settle down with?’
Marek sniffed. ‘The only man I would settle down with is spoken for.’
Gus had no desire to pursue that avenue, so instead he contented himself with urging caution on his erratic manservant. Marek bowed his head and promised to be good. Gus tried to believe him.
James Antrobus and he sat in the dilapidated library and made some plans. ‘I think an inventory might be a good place to start, James.’
‘Certainly, sir, though it might take a while. What about this library?’
‘Libraries are not my favourite places,’ mused Gus, ‘and this is a big one. Even so, I might see what there is here. Most of it looks like ancient theology and the classics. But there must somewhere be deeds, surveys and accounts to be found, if it’s anything like Haddesley Hall. Now there I am on familiar ground. Father spent a long time with me as a boy teaching me how to manage an estate, and I think I can still cast an account better than any of my brothers.’
‘We need to inspect the home farm, sir. I have some doubts as to whether the hay has been brought in to the castle’s benefit. The new mill Lord Burlesdon’s father built has not been properly maintained and the stock is depleted. I will start work on that, if you are in agreement.’
‘Go ahead,’ Gus said. Then he sighed. ‘This is a bigger job than I expected.’
‘Indeed, sir, but not beyond your capacities, I think.’
And so several days passed. In a half-ruined outbuilding, Gus discovered the castle deed-boxes. The rats had got at a few of them, so he ordered some sensible tin trunks to be sent over from Bob’s lawyers in Strelsau before setting out to sort everything he could find. All the documents were in Latin or German fortunately, since he would have had serious problems if they had been in Rothenian. He spent a whole day poring over surveys and rentals, and – true to his Underwood nature – became absorbed in the task. He began sketching out the castle’s rights and dues, comparing them with the inadequate accounts the former agent had left him.
Gus soon saw a sizeable problem emerging. There were substantial amounts of uncollected revenues. However, if he tried to collect them he would have a peasants’ revolt on his hands. But he had to do something , because the Hentzau estate was being robbed blind.
When Gus was not worrying about Hentzau, he was wondering at how suddenly isolated he felt. He had spent several weeks in high politics and at the centre of events. He had experienced danger, excitement and passion in their highest forms. Now he was living a quiet, bachelor life in the heart of the countryside, worrying about leases, drainage and pasture rights.
He could keep up with the world from the Strelsau papers, which were delivered daily to the castle. The tumult in the capital had subsided after the queen’s funeral. The Council of Regency had formally resigned, and from his residence at Zenda, King Leopold had duly issued the orders for new elections to be held. He had offered a general amnesty for all acts committed during the interregnum, which the papers concluded sourly was calculated mostly to help his allies in Mittenheim. Gus was more hopeful. It seemed at least to show that Leopold was a man interested in the overall peace of his kingdom.
There was no immediate move towards a coronation. Leopold refused to go through a Catholic rite, and Ruritanian history had no alternatives to suggest. It seemed that the formal installation of the new king would take some time to organise.
Gus was keen to hear the news from the Tarlenheim family, and although Oskar was a useless correspondent, Hugo and Sissi wrote more or less daily. They were waiting for the end of the period of national mourning in a week’s time. Their marriage would be celebrated the following day at the abbey of Medeln, and Gus was expected to be there.
As the days passed, Gus became more fixated on the wedding. He also became more disappointed in Oskar. Hugo believed that his brother had left for Vienna immediately after the failure of the Rassendyll candidacy. Gus had at least expected some word and even had hopes of a visit at Hentzau, but there was nothing. He consoled himself with the reflection that Oskar always had some scheme going on, and that was not likely to change even if his advocacy of the Rassendyll succession had failed. Gus tried not to feel woeful.
The day before he left for the wedding, Gus was surprised by Marek running down the corridor to the estate office, shouting, ‘He’s come! His excellency’s here!’ The boy burst in, composed himself and explained with a contrite grin, ‘Count Oskar’s in the stable yard, sir.’ He snickered. ‘Would you like me to get the bed warmed?’
It was indeed Oskar who came striding up into the castle with a big smile across his face. He was still in punctilious black, as national mourning was not over yet, but a very florid orchid in purple and violet adorned his buttonhole. Reckless of observation, he grabbed Gus and kissed him full on the mouth.
When they had separated, Gus demanded, ‘Where on earth have you been?’
‘Now Gussie, let us not get possessive shall we? If you must know, I’m just back from Vienna.’
‘Not at all. There was a loose end I had to tidy up, and you know me and loose ends …’
Gus laughed. He took Oskar by the hand and they spent some considerable time in the exact same place Marek had anticipated.
When Marek knocked and came into the bedroom to remind Gus of an appointment, Oskar grabbed the boy and wrestled him into the bed, screaming and laughing. With Marek finally subdued, Oskar said, ‘Nice to see you, imp. How’s country life for you?’
‘It’s made me full of beans, excellency. It’s all the wonderful fresh air. I’ve found a farmer’s boy who’s quite the ploughman. We meet above the stables. He’s insatiable.’
Gus sat up. ‘Is this what you call being discrete?’
‘Well, yes sir. I mean, he doesn’t tell anyone what we do, and with someone as energetic as he is, I don’t go looking for anyone else, believe me. We all benefit. His name is Hans.’
‘Not Hans Ebersdorf, for heaven’s sake!’
‘Yes sir. Is there a problem?’
‘No, not really,’ Gus sighed, ‘other than one of his uncles is the police commandant and the other is the priest.’
‘Ah, then I really must be discrete.’ Marek scrambled off the bed, straightened his clothes and left Gus and Oskar to themselves.
Gus shook his head. ‘The boy will be the death of me.’
‘He seems happy.’
‘He’s a damned good servant. He runs me like a railway timetable. Apart from his riotous libido, I have nothing to say against him.’ Gus paused. ‘Now tell me about Vienna and the loose end.’
‘Ah well. The loose end is my deceased friend, the good Father Piotr Ignacij. I would like to find who killed him, and I believe I have.’
Gus stared. ‘How did you do that?’
‘Firstly, I visited some gentlemen in Kaleczyk and heard what they had been able to gather from the late Father Wilhelm Hollar.’
‘He’s dead? They tortured him to death? That’s …’
‘No, well, yes … he’s dead, but by natural causes, a heart attack. They were questioning him closely and robustly, but he was never tortured. They made a record of what he had to say about Father Piotr’s murder – how Hollar betrayed him to the Thuringians, and how a party of German agents had been set to tail him as he left by train for Vienna. But Hollar claimed he knew nothing more, and I suppose he might have been telling the truth.’
‘So then what did you do?’
‘Next I retraced Father Piotr’s route. Strangely, no one had pursued that avenue of investigation, although the track is still fresh. It has not yet been eight weeks since his death. A porter at Luchau remembered him well, having assisted him to board the express. The porter even remembered that four men in a party had boarded the train behind the priest and apparently had entered his compartment.’
‘Could he give any description?’
‘Only that the tallest of them looked very familiar at the time, but he could not say why. So, I moved on to Vienna without a huge amount of hope. It is a big city where it is easy to lose people. But there was one man whom I did have to see: the janitor at the St-Marxer Friedhof. Of course the Viennese police had interviewed him, but I did not have access to their case reports. So I went to the man himself, posing as a reporter from Ruritania following up new allegations which had been made in Strelsau about Father Piotr’s death. The janitor was very interested, especially when I tipped him with a fifty florin note. He made me a tea, he was so pleased.
‘We had a long chat about that day. Of course a murder in his cemetery was going to make it out of the ordinary for him and fix it in his memory. He told me what he had told the police, that two men – Karl Blauer and another, taller man – had entered the cemetery a half hour before Father Piotr. He had paid them little attention. He heard the shots, of course, but did not recognise them for what they were, as is often the case with witnesses to a shooting. But he did look out of his lodge to see a tall man in black walk hastily towards the canal path and head across the bridge.
‘We kicked the events around and I continually returned to the tall man. Eventually the janitor confessed that after he had talked to the police something had jogged his memory. He had been reluctant to go back to the police about it, in case they were annoyed at him. When I asked what it was, he said, as had the porter at Luchau, “Well, he was strangely familiar, sir.” By now this was infuriating me. How could a man – if it was the same man – be familiar to a railway worker in Ruritania and a janitor in a Viennese cemetery?
‘I kept at him and asked him again to describe the man’s gait, exact height and face. He could remember light hair and a moustache. Not much help. Then I asked if he had noticed the resemblance at the time or if it had occurred to him later. He thought a while and decided it was later. How much later? He thought it was a week. I asked him what he was doing when he recalled it, and he said he was making his afternoon tea. So I told him to go through the motions of tea-making which he did, but there was nothing. Nearly at my wits’ end, I asked if there was anything else he did. Suddenly his eyes lit up and he took down his tin of biscuits from a shelf. This was it! He swore, “Of course, sir, it was the biscuit tin!”
‘I took it from him. It was a London Assortment, and on the lid were facing portraits of Queen Victoria and her late husband, the Prince Consort.’
Gus was excited by now as well as a little amused. ‘You mean that Father Piotr was sent to his grave by Albert the Prince Consort, dead now some eighteen years?’
‘Gussie, you are a great trial to me, you know. I ask you, whom have you met who is the living image of Prince Albert the Good?’
‘Oh! My heavens! Only his cousin, Prince Albert the Vile of Thuringia! Good God! And he was in Vienna, too. He shot Father Piotr! We met him afterwards at the archducal levée. The wicked devil was as cool as if his hands were lily white, not stained with a priest’s blood!’