فصل 03

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فصل 03

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CHAPTER THREE

The Cousins Rudolf

I went for a walk in the forest the next morning. I walked near the castle. The old part was very imposing and still in good condition. I noticed that it stood on an island, and there was a moat full of water surrounding it. The water looked deep and cold. On the other side of the moat there was an elegant modern chateau, the country home of the Duke of Strelsau. I walked for a long time. I decided to lie down and rest for a while. I fell asleep in the forest.

I dreamt I was married to Princess Flavia and we lived in the castle of Zenda. I was about to kiss the Princess when I heard someone say, ‘This man looks just like the Prince except for his beard.’

I opened my eyes and saw two men looking at me with great curiosity.

Then the other man said, ‘He’s the same height as the Prince, as well. Really, it’s very odd!’

I stood up now and looked at the two men. One of them was quite an old man. He had a square head and a grey moustache, and he looked serious. The other one was young. He had dark skin, and he seemed friendlier than the older man. The young man smiled at me.

‘What’s your name?’ he asked politely.

‘Rassendyll’ I told him. ‘Rudolf Rassendyll.’

‘I’m Fritz von Tarlenheim,’ he said. He pointed at the older man. ‘And this is Colonel Sapt,’ he told me. ‘We work for the Prince.’

Colonel Sapt smiled at me now.

‘So you’re a Rassendyll,’ he said happily. ‘You know the old story about the Prince of Ruritania and the Countess Amelia, I suppose?’

I smiled as well.

‘I know the story very well,’ I told him.

There was a noise behind some trees, and a man began to shout.

‘Fritz! Fritz! Where are you?’

‘It’s the Prince,’ Fritz von Tarlenheim said. ‘He’s calling me.’

Now the man came forward. I looked at him in great surprise. He looked at me in great surprise. Prince Rudolf of Ruritania and Rudolf Rassendyll looked the same - except for my beard.

I studied the Prince carefully. The likeness was remarkable. He was a little shorter than me, and his face was a little fatter than mine. I also noticed that his mouth did not look as determined as mine. But for all that, we were nearly identical!

For a moment no one spoke. Then the Prince turned to Fritz and Colonel Sapt.

Colonel Sapt whispered something in the Prince’s ear. The Prince listened carefully, and then he began to smile. Suddenly he laughed very loudly.

‘We’re cousins!’ he said to me. I’m very pleased to know you, cousin,’ he added. ‘Come and dine with me tonight. We’ll talk of old times together. And you will stay at my house tonight, of course.’

Colonel Sapt stepped forward to speak to the Prince again. He spoke seriously.

‘The coronation is tomorrow morning, sir,’ he said. ‘There is a lot to do before then. We have a lot of things to talk about. It’s not the evening for a dinner with Mr. Rassendyll.’

Prince Rudolf looked angrily at Colonel Sapt. He did not seem pleased with the Colonel’s advice.

‘I want to dine with Mr. Rassendyll!’ he said crossly, i want to drink wine with him. He’s my cousin - and I don’t meet a new cousin every day.

That is how I came to dine with Prince Rudolf. We ate well, and we drank a lot of wine. Prince Rudolf drank more wine than anyone else. He was very happy because of the wine. It was a long dinner.

I thought the evening was finished, but I was wrong. The servant, Joseph, brought another bottle of wine to the table.

‘This bottle comes from the Duke of Strelsau,’ he told Prince Rudolf. ‘He told me to give you this message: “Drink this wine because you love me.” That’s what he told me to say, sir.’

‘What a good brother Michael is!’ Prince Rudolf cried joyfully. ‘I’ll certainly drink his wine.’

He reached for the bottle and poured a glass of the wine. He drank the glass quickly. Then he put his head on the table and fell asleep.

Nobody else touched the wine from the Duke of Strelsau.

I looked at Fritz von Tarlenheim and Colonel Sapt. I did not say anything, but the Prince of Ruritania was a disappointment to me. He seemed a selfish young man - a selfish young man who was too fond of wine. I remember nothing else about that evening. I, too, had drunk too much wine. I fell asleep at the table.

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