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The Heart of Princess Osra is part of Anthony Hope’s trilogy of novels set in the fictional country of Ruritania and which spawned the genre of Ruritanian romance. This collection of linked short stories is a prequel: it was written immediately after the success of The Prisoner of Zenda, but is set in the 1730s, well over a century before the events of Zenda and its sequel, Rupert of Hentzau. The stories deal with the love life of Princess Osra, younger sister of Rudolf III, the shared ancestor of Rudolf Rassendyll, the English gentleman who acts as political decoy inThe Prisoner of Zenda, and Rudolph V of the House of Elphberg, the absolute monarch of that Germanic kingdom. (source: Wikipedia)
249 pages with a reading time of ~4 hours (62271 words), and first published in 1896. This DRM-Free edition published by epubBooks, 2014.
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“Stephen! Stephen! Stephen!”
The impatient cry was heard through all the narrow gloomy street, where the old richly-carved house-fronts bowed to meet one another and left for the eye’s comfort only a bare glimpse of blue. It was, men said, the oldest street in Strelsau, even as the sign of the “Silver Ship” was the oldest sign known to exist in the city. For when Aaron Lazarus the Jew came there, seventy years before, he had been the tenth man in unbroken line that took up the business; and now Stephen Nados, his apprentice and successor, was the eleventh. Old Lazarus had made a great business of it, and had spent his savings in buying up the better part of the street; but since Jews then might hold no property in Strelsau, he had taken all the deeds in the name of Stephen Nados; and when he came to die, being unable to carry his houses or his money with him, having no kindred, and caring not a straw for any man or woman alive save Stephen, he bade Stephen let the deeds be, and, with a last curse against the Christians (of whom Stephen was one, and a devout one), he kissed the young man, and turned his face to the wall and died. Therefore Stephen was a rich man, and had no need to carry on the business, though it never entered his mind to do anything else; for half the people who raised their heads at the sound of the cry were Stephen’s tenants, and paid him rent when he asked for it; a thing he did when he chanced to remember, and could tear himself away from chasing a goblet or fashioning a little silver saint; for Stephen loved his craft more than his rents; therefore, again, he was well liked in the quarter.
“Stephen! Stephen!” cried Prince Henry, impatiently hammering on the closed door with his whip. “Plague take the man! Is he dead?”
The men in the quarter went on with their work; the women moved idly to the doors; the girls came out into the street and clustered here and there, looking at the Prince. For although he was not so handsome as that scamp Rudolf, his brother, who had just come back from his travels with half a dozen wild stories spurring after him, yet Henry was a comely youth, as he sat on his chestnut mare, with his blue eyes full of impatience, and his chestnut curls fringing his shoulders. So the girls clustered and looked. Moreover Stephen the smith must come soon, and the sight of him was worth a moment’s waiting; for he buried himself all day in his workshop, and no laughing challenge could lure him out.
“Though, in truth,” said one of the girls, tossing her head, “it’s thankless work to spend a glance on either, for they do not return it. Now when Rudolf comes—-”
She broke off with a laugh, and her comrades joined in it. Rudolf left no debts of that sort unpaid, however deep he might be in the books of Stephen Nados and of the others who furnished his daily needs.
Presently Stephen came, unbolting his door with much deliberation, and greeting Prince Henry with a restrained courtesy. He was not very well pleased to see his guest, for it was a ticklish moment with the nose of Saint Peter, and Stephen would have liked to finish the job uninterrupted. Still, the Prince was a prince, a gentleman, and a friend, and Stephen would not be uncivil to him.
“You ride early to-day, sir,” he observed, patting the chestnut mare.
“I have a good reason,” answered Henry. “The Lion rages to-day.”
Stephen put up his hand to shelter his eyes from a ray of sunshine that had evaded the nodding walls and crept in; it lit up his flaxen hair, which he wore long and in thick waves, and played in his yellow beard; and he looked very grave. For when the Lion raged, strange and alarming things might happen in the city of Strelsau. The stories of his last fit of passion were yet hardly old.
“What has vexed the King?” he asked; for he knew that Prince Henry spoke of his father, Henry surnamed the Lion, now an old man, yet as fierce as when he had been young. “Is it your brother again?”
“For a marvel, no. It is myself, Stephen. And he is more furious with me than he has ever been with Rudolf; aye, even more than he was at all the stories that followed my brother home.”
“And what is the cause of it all, sir, and how is it in my power to help?”
“That you will find out very soon,” said the Prince with a bitter laugh. “You will be sent for to the palace in an hour, Stephen.”
“If it is about the King’s ring, the ring is not finished,” said Stephen.
“It is not about the ring. Yet indeed it is, in a way, about a ring. For you are to be married, Stephen. This very day you are to be married.”
“I think not, sir,” said Stephen mildly. “For it is a thing that a man himself hears about if it be true.”
“But the King thinks so; Stephen, have you remarked, among my sister Osra’s ladies, a certain dark lady, with black hair and eyes? I cannot describe her eyes.”