“You know who sent it?” she asked.

“I guess,” said I. “It is from a good friend—and I fear, an unhappy woman. You must be ill, Flavia, and unable to go to Zenda. Make your excuses as cold and formal as you like.”

“So you feel strong enough to anger Michael?” she said, with a proud smile.

“I’m strong enough for anything, while you are safe,” said I.

Soon I tore myself away from her, and then, without consulting Sapt, I took my way to the house of Marshal Strakencz. I had seen something of the old general, and I liked and trusted him. Sapt was less enthusiastic, but I had learnt by now that Sapt was best pleased when he could do everything, and jealousy played some part in his views. As things were now, I had more work than Sapt and Fritz could manage, for they must come with me to Zenda, and I wanted a man to guard what I loved most in all the world, and suffer me to set about my task of releasing the King with a quiet mind.

The Marshal received me with most loyal kindness. To some extent, I took him into my confidence. I charged him with the care of the princess, looking him full and significantly in the face as I bade him let no one from her cousin the duke approach her, unless he himself were there and a dozen of his men with him.

“You may be right, sire,” said he, shaking his grey head sadly. “I have known better men than the duke do worse things than that for love.”

I could quite appreciate the remark, but I said:

“There’s something beside love, Marshal. Love’s for the heart; is there nothing my brother might like for his head?”

“I pray that you wrong him, sire.”

“Marshal, I’m leaving Strelsau for a few days. Every evening I will send a courier to you. If for three days none comes, you will publish an order which I will give you, depriving Duke Michael of the governorship of Strelsau and appointing you in his place. You will declare a state of siege. Then you will send word to Michael that you demand an audience of the King—You follow me?”

“Ay, sire.”

“—In twenty-four hours. If he does not produce the King” (I laid my hand on his knee), “then the King is dead, and you will proclaim the next heir. You know who that is?”

“The Princess Flavia.”

“And swear to me, on your faith and honour and by the fear of the living God, that you will stand by her to the death, and kill that reptile, and seat her where I sit now.”

“On my faith and honour, and by the fear of God, I swear it! And may Almighty God preserve your Majesty, for I think that you go on an errand of danger.”

“I hope that no life more precious than mine may be demanded,” said I, rising. Then I held out my hand to him.

“Marshal,” I said, “in days to come, it may be—I know not—that you will hear strange things of the man who speaks to you now. Let him be what he may, and who he may, what say you of the manner in which he has borne himself as King in Strelsau?”

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