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Don't try this at home...The following I receiv'd in Morse-Code, tapp'd out by the heel of a Shoe on a floor-board in a Rustick Hoftelry...

The Old Inn,
The Purple Moor,

Dear Madame,

Help! I am an Inn-keeper's Daughter and am being held Hostage! I have been tied up to my Bedpost by a company of Soldiers, who have near drunk my Parents clean out of Ale, without yet paying. Tim, the disgusting and half-craz'd Ostler, who hath been leching after me for years, hath betray'd my secret High Toby-man Lover to them, and they are luring him into a Trap, as he vow'd to come to me by Moonlight, though Hell should bar the way...

I cannot endure this thought, for my Lover is a fine Buck, with a French-cock'd hat on his forehead, skin-tight doe-skin breeches which fit with ne'er a Wrinkle, spurr'd boots up to his Thigh, a coat of Claret velvet, a fine lace Cravat, and twinkly Bits on his Pistols and Rapier...

The rough Soldiery have tied me up very tightly, with a Musquet beside me, the Muzzle beneath my Breast, which hath afforded them much Coarse Sniggering, as I am what they call a "Bushel Bubby", and the Gun-metal prefses most chill against me. However, I have thought of a way to Confound them & save my Beloved, tho' at Cost of mine own Life. With much effort & wriggling, breaking of my finger Nails & c. & c. & c., I can reach the Trigger of the said Musquet. If I shoot myself thus, the Report may yet warn him to avoid this place. Madame, pray, what should I do?

(the Landlord's Daughter)


Dear Befs,

First of all, DO NOT PANICK!

Yr Situation is not so desperate as to merit contemplating yr Self-destruction. This Toby-Man of yours, for all his Airs & Graces, is but a common Criminal and Hedge-Robber, who has doubtless kill'd & robb'd many innocent persons on the Roads. There is more to a Man's worth than the fit of his Breeches, fine Lace & Velvets, or twinkly Bits (although it helps, of course, and I am not immune to the Charms of a well-turn'd Leg or elegant Figure myself! - Alas, my dear Valmont!).

Also, consider the likely Consequences, if you do shoot yourself:

  1. Your violent & bloody Death or, at the very least, a painful Wound in a most tender Place, likely requiring of the Chirurgeon's knife (read Mme. d'Arblay's account of her Operation, and I think you will be less enthusiastic to risk such an Ordeal on a romantick girlish Fancy!);
  2. The mental Distrefs caus'd to yr worthy & much-tried Parents in having to scrape bits of your mangl'd Mammary off yr bedroom Ceiling. Removing Blood-Stains is very difficult when oak beams are involv'd, and as for the Plaster-Work...!
  3. Further unnecefsary Distrefs caus'd to the Soldiery, who are, when all's said, only trying to do their Job and keep the King's Highways safe for honest Travellers;
  4. Burial at the Cross-roads with a Stake through yr Heart, as if you were a Criminal yrself, for Self-murder;
  5. Losing the Chance to avenge yrself on the perfidious & repulsive blackguard Tim the Ostler;
  6. The Chance that when he hears of it, yr idiotic Criminal Paramour will be inspir'd to do something utterly fatuous and futile, such as charge straight at the Soldiers, brandishing his Rapier and screaming Imprecations, and be shot down like a Dog in the Highway (with a bunch of lace at his Throat).

 I therefore suggest that you resign yrself to the death of this Banditti of yours, and instead try to ingratiate yrself with yr Captors. Officers only, mind: there must surely be a pretty young Ensign, Lieutenant or even a Captain among them. The more gold or silver Lace, the better. Their Employment is more secure, though retains the Hasard/Thrill factor you so clearly desire, and they too dress most charmingly... (Even my solitary & jaded Eye has thrilled to a scarlet Coat at the moving Magick Lantern show...!)

Tell the Officer in Command that Tim was the Highwayman's true Accomplice, and let them shoot him too. And do remind him (politely) to pay for his men's Drinks before they leave the Hostelry.

The following Mifsive in German arrived from a most accomplish'd & charming young Gentleman in Ruritania, a Country which lies betwixt Saxony & Bohemia. I am deeply honour'd that he has deem'd me worthy to confult as a King-Maker:

Schloß Zenda,
April 1876

Gnädige Markgräfin!

Michael von Elphberg, Duke of StrelsauI am a nobleman of the highest rank and progressive principles, 26 this year. I have been placed in an impossible situation due to my Royal father's death just a few months ago.

My father was married twice: his first wife, a princess from another royal house, died shortly after the birth of my half-brother, the Crown Prince; his second wife (my mother) is of good but not sufficiently exalted family (at least not in the eyes of the Church), and was married morganatically. I thus have no claim to the throne, although I understand that my father was reconsidering my official position shortly before his death.

As Crown Prince, my half-brother Rudolf was over-indulged, and can best be characterised now, at 29, as a pleasure-seeking wastrel and debauchee with no interest in the welfare of his country. He has spent most of his adult life in Monte Carlo and Baden, at or under the tables. The Army, the Church, and the wealthy of the Neustadt of Strelsau support him. I, on the other hand, have worked hard as City Governor in the interests of the working classes of the Altstadt. I now find myself hailed as "the Champion of the Poor". The Crown Prince's clique claims this is merely a pose, but they are blinkered by their devotion to a decadent fool and contempt for what they regard as "a poverty-stricken, turbulent, and (in large measure) criminal class" - not pausing to wonder why there is poverty, unrest, and disorder among them. Even my failure to resemble the red-haired male line is thrown back at me with the epithet schwarz, since I take my looks from my mother's family. If you know aught of my country, I think I need not spell out the odious prejudice which prompts this: behind my back, other words are used which I will not repeat, generally accompanied by "mongrel" (mischling). My brother, needless to say, has the Cardinal-Archbishop's support. Yet the common people are not duped.

I feel the eyes of the people upon me, impelling me to act. There are other pressures upon me, too, which demand that I waste no time. Leading a popular uprising is out of the question, as it would be crushed by the Army's superior fire-power (as indeed happened in Strelsau in 1848). A small-scale palace coup seems preferable - with as few casualties as possible. If successful, I may have to consolidate and legitimise my position by wedding my brother's fiancée, our late uncle's daughter Princess Flavia, the next heir. But I am not sure how that will be taken by my mistress, a poule de luxe a good number of years my senior. Although I only met her a month ago, when visiting Paris (ostensibly to invite President MacMahon to the coronation, but also gaining assurances of non-intervention, should I decide to act), she has just arrived here in Ruritanen, and seems to have further designs upon me!

The main dangers I perceive in my plans are a young ally whom I suspect to have his own agenda, especially regarding my mistress - but he is a good fighter, though lacking in principle, and I would rather risk his being on my side where I can see him than on Rudi's; and the loyalty of some of Rudi's supporters, notably his ADCs, one of whom is our late Father's Equerry (a pompous windbag of a Colonel). They will stop at nothing to prop up a corrupt imbecile through whom the Army and the Church will be able to maintain their stranglehold on our country, and obstruct any hope of reform.

Herzog von Strelsau
& Hauptstadtsgouverneur


My Dear Mischa,

You are indeed in a difficult Situation, dear Boy: damn'd if you do & equally damn'd if you do Nothing. Yr Father has left a veritable poison'd Chalice, highlighting one of the problems inherent in the hereditary Principle, especially in an Abfolutist Government: Heaven does not always make the right Men Kings. And talking of poison'd Chalices, that may well be a pofsible solution for dealing with yr difsipated & debauch'd older Brother, who I'm sure is innately Incapable of pafsing up a Drink... (Failing that, an 'accident' with a Pretzel may easily be arranged: he's surely incapable of munching & thinking simultaneously.)

I understand yr meaning about the base Prejudices prevalent in yr Country. 'Tis true of mine, also: my Compatriot Monsieur Swann has encountered much Snobbery & Hostility on account of his Origins. And that great poet, Herr Heine, has commented on it most astutely. Your Mother was of converted Family, I take it?

You seem to me to be in an inordinate Hurry, & I am greatly apprehensive as to the Reason. My Secretary, who claims to be some sort of Doctor, is moft concern'd at yr Appearance: the full-blooded red on yr Cheek, brilliance of Eye, & general Air of hectick Intenfity. She notes, too, a certain resemblance to the late Romantick Poet & Revolutionary Sandor Petöfi, and mutters darkly about "Lungenschwindsucht". She fears you have endanger'd yr Life by spending too much Time in the Altstadt Slums, and advises against any Over-Exertion such as Sword-fights. I enclose an advertisement for a most comfortable Sanatorium in Davos, which was sent to me by another charming young man, Herr Kastorp. Please do take Care!

Yr Mistrefs, as a Woman of the World - indeed, of Pleasure - should be mature enough to accept the pofsibility of yr Marriage. After all - if I may speak plain - what are you to her but another businefs Opportunity/Toy-boy? Is she, perhaps, intending to ufe you as her Retirement Fund? Or do you suppose she may be with Child? Otherwife, you may expect she should soon be back in Paris, Carlsbad, Monte Carlo, Biarritz, Withernsea & c. in search of fresh Prey. But WATCH HER & YR ALLY. They may as soon sell you to yr Foes, whatever their Motives.

Posterity will not forgive you if you try & fail. The People will not forgive you if you fail to try.

God Speed & (if I may) Mazeltov.

PS: Since You are a young Man of such excellent Taste as to appreciate the Company of older Frenchwomen, please feel free to call upon me to share a Bottle of Tokay some time - after you are Crown'd, of course... But separate Glafses, to be on the Safe Side, as I have no Desire to emulate the unfortunate Mlle. Gautier: blood-spitting is so déclassé...

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