Prisoner of Zenda

From New Year, New Adventure

The Prisoner of Zenda by Anthony Hope

Paragraphs 243-247

A fierce oath rang out from the duke, and with a loud thud he threw himself against the door. At the same moment I heard a window above my head open, and a voice cried: “What’s the matter?” and I heard a man’s hasty footsteps. I grasped my sword. If De Gautet came my way the Six would be less by one more.

Then I heard the clash of crossed swords and a tramp of feet, and—I cannot tell the thing so quickly as it happened, for all seemed to come at once. There was an angry cry from madame’s room, the cry of a wounded man; the window was flung open; young Rupert stood there sword in hand. He turned his back, and I saw his body go forward to the lunge.

“Ah, Johann, there’s one for you! Come on, Michael!”

Johann was there, then—come to the rescue of the duke? How would he open the door for me? For I feared that Rupert had slain him.

“Help!” cried the duke’s voice, faint and husky.

I heard a stir on the stairs above me; and I heard a stir down to my right, in the direction of the king’s cell. But before anything happened on my side of the moat I saw five or six men round young Rupert in the embrasure of madame’s window. Three or four times he lunged with incomparable dash and dexterity. For an instant they fell back, leaving a ring round him. He leaped on the parapet of the window, laughing as he leaped, and waving his sword in his hand. He was drunk with blood, and he laughed again wildly as he flung himself headlong into the moat.

What became of him then? I did not see: for as he leaped, De Gautet’s lean face looked out through the door by me, and without a second’s hesitation I struck at him with all the strength God had given me, and he fell dead in the doorway without a word or a groan. I dropped on my knees by him. Where were the keys? I found myself muttering: “The keys, man, the keys!” as though he had been yet alive and could listen; and when I could not find them I—God forgive me!—I believe I struck a dead man’s face.

At last I had them. There were but three, Seizing the largest, I felt the lock of the door that led to the cell. I fitted in the key. It was right! The lock turned. I drew the door close behind me and locked it as noiselessly as I could, putting the key in my pocket.

I found myself at the top of a flight of steep stone stairs. An oil lamp burned dimly in the bracket. I took it down and held it in my hand; and I stood and listened.

“What in the devil can it be?” I heard a voice say.

It came from behind a door that faced me at the bottom of the stairs.

And another answered:

“Shall we kill him?”

I strained to hear the answer, and could have sobbed with relief when Detchard’s voice came, grating and cold:

“Wait a bit. There’ll be trouble if we strike too soon.”

There was a moment’s silence. Then I heard the bolt of the door cautiously drawn back. Instantly I put out the light I held, replacing the lamp in the bracket.

“It’s dark the lamp’s out. Have you a light? said the other voice—Bersonin’s.

No doubt they had a light, but they should not use it. It was come to the crisis now, and I rushed down the steps and flung myself against the door. Bersonin had unbolted it and it gave way before me. The Belgian stood there, sword in hand, and Detchard was sitting on a couch at the side of the room. In astonishment at seeing me, Bersonin recoiled; Detchard jumped to his sword. I rushed madly at the Belgian: he gave way before me, and I drove him up against the wall. He was no swordsman, though he fought bravely, and in a moment he lay on the floor before me. I turned—Detchard was not there. Faithful to his orders, he had not risked a fight with me, but had rushed straight to the door of the king’s room, opened it, and slammed it behind him. Even now he was at his work inside.

And surely he would have killed the king, and perhaps me also, had it not been for one devoted man who gave his life for the king. For when I forced the door the sight I saw was this: The king stood in the corner of the room: broken by his sickness, he could do nothing; his fettered hands moved uselessly up and down, and he was laughing horribly in half-mad delirium. Detchard and the doctor were together in the middle of the room; and the doctor had flung himself on the murderer, pinning his hands to his sides for an instant. Then Detchard wrenched himself free from the feeble grip, and as I entered drove his sword through the hapless man.

Then he turned on me, crying:

“At last!”

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