Title: An Appointment in Dresden
Day/Theme: 13th September/"Go west"
Series: The Prisoner of Zenda/Rupert of Hentzau
Character/Pairing: Rudolf Rassendyll, Fritz von Tarlenheim, the Count of Luzau-Rischenheim
A year after the incident at Zenda, I met with Mr Rassendyll in Dresden. The weather was crisp and there was a chill in the air, so that everyone on the train or off it was well wrapped up in furs and gloves, with their hats pulled down low over their ears. In such a state I should not have recognised Mr Rassendyll save for the fact that I had seen him dressed so before; indeed, the last time I had laid eyes on him he had been muffled from head to toe.
He called to me as I stepped on to the platform and right gladly I returned his cry, for, as I have already mentioned, the day was developing a frost and I was greatly frozen by my journey.
"I have a hansom waiting," he said, taking my elbow without preamble. "I have no use for standing about here!" He turned his head as he spoke and smiled at me: the vitality of that smile on a face that I had left thin and weak and sickly in Ruritania made me momentarily breathless. "It is good to see you, Fritz," he continued with no little emotion. I realised that it must have been lonely for him in England; there he had no one to speak with about what had transpired at Zenda and in Strelsau; he could not even speak of the woman he loved beyond all things.
I touched his arm as we stepped into the cab and opened my mouth to try and convey some small fraction of the desolation I had felt at his departure and the joy of our meeting here in Dresden, but the words caught in my throat and I could only say, "And you." My eyes burnt with the shame of failure, but Rudolf met my mute gaze with one of understanding, and relief, and cheer.
We travelled to the inn in good spirits and dined there. Our conversation was in low tones; every so often Rudolf would begin to ask something, then cut himself off abruptly and I would, without thinking, motion towards my breast pocket and his eyes would light on it hungrily. On those occasions, he recollected himself with some difficulty.
The only part of the evening that I do not recall with fondness was when our conversation was interrupted not by the murmur of a waiter, but by a nervous-looking young man: the Count of Luzau-Rischenheim.
"M-my lords!" he stammered, his face pale as he approached our table. His hands shook with the surprise and almost terror at his discovery. "Y-your Majesty – !"
I would have leapt up then and there, but the cool head and good sense of Mr Rassendyll prevailed and he said, quite calmly, "You are mistaken, sir."
"I – but – " Rischenheim twisted his hat between his fingers, seeming deathly ill.
"You are not the first to make that error," Mr Rassendyll assured him. "Would you care to sit? You look as if you have seen a ghost."
"No, indeed," gasped the unfortunate Count, "I have an appointment," and he rushed away.
"Who was that?" asked Rudolf with great interest.
"The Count of Luzau-Rischenheim," I replied, and gave a short history of the man, ending with, "most importantly, he is Rupert of Hentzau's cousin and friend. Some say more than that, but while Rupert is undoubtedly a blackguard – I do not know."
Mr Rassendyll paid no attention to this last aside, but said thoughtfully, "Rupert's friend, eh? And after seeing me, he has an appointment. Who with, I wonder, and is he close by?" He leaned back in his chair, sipping at his wine. "Ah, it is of no matter. He cannot tell Rupert anything that Rupert does not already know."
"Be careful," I warned him, but he laughed, and presently I laughed, too.