(A Red Horse.)
"And when He had opened the 'SECOND SEAL,' I heard the 'Second Beast' say, Come. And there went out another Horse that was RED: and power was given to him that sat thereon to take peace from the earth, and that they should kill one another: and there was given unto him a GREAT SWORD."
There is no need to tarry long with this SEAL. When it was broken John heard the second, or "Calf-like Living Creature" say, "Come," and a "RED HORSE" appeared and went forth, whose Rider was given a "GREAT SWORD," and who had power to take peace from the earth, and cause men to kill one another. The symbolism is very clear. Red, the colour of the Horse, is a symbol of BLOOD, and the Sword is a symbol of WAR. The time is clearly that prophesied by Christ--"And ye shall hear of wars and rumors of wars . . . for nation shall rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom." Matt. 24:6-7. This seems to imply that the Antichrist will not have everything his own way, and that his Autocratic methods will lead to insubordination and civil wars among the nations under some great leader represented by the Rider of the Red Horse, whose "Great Sword" is symbolical of the awful destruction of human life that will follow.
It is April 1914. The location, Dorchester house, Park Lane, London. The Dorchester hotel will eventually be sited here.
A man steps out of a taxi. It is Jean Armand Duplessis; the 10th Duc de Richleau (Most of his friends call him (Armand). He is in his mid - thirties which would make his year of birth 1880 ish.
He has accepted an invitation from his old friend Sir George Holford to attend a masked ball.
Fairly soon into the evening as the Duke is just starting to climb the main stairway, a young man walking down the steps slips. He unintentionally drags the young lady on his arm with him. The Duke however, was quick enough to catch the girl before she falls.
A little later in the evening they meet again and decide to dance (as well as discussing the merits of wife/Girlfriend beating). Despite this contentious subject they get on very well and adjourn to a quieter spot where they can talk. As their prolonged conversation is coming to an end he kisses her…..and she faints!!
It turns out that the girl is an Austrian Princess. The Arch Duchess Illona Theresa.
Her entourage appear on the scene accompanied by a diplomat by the name of Sir Pellinore Gwaine Cust.
Sir Pellinore is 43 years old and was therefore born in 1871.
The Duke meets with Sir Pellinore at a later date to discuss the likelihood/inevitability of War and the state of Serbia at present. The Duke informs Sir Pellinore of Colonel Dragutin Dimitriyevitch http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Dragutin_Dimitrijevi%C4%87
and what a powerful effect he is having on the situation. He is a member of 'The Black Hand (Whose main purpose is to create a great empire for Serbia in the Eastern Mediterranean) http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Black_Hand
and the official chief of all the Serbian Intelligence departments. As the Duke had met him before it could be very useful to the British Government to have a spy in the camp.
Sir Pellinore agrees and obtains the Dukes agreement to take the Orient Express to Belgrade via Dover and Ostend to meet up with Dimitriyevitch (Or as Sir Pellinore calls him Dimibitch, Dissiwitch, Dimthebitch etc).
On the ferry he meets up with Illona again. The friendship improves further.
The Duke discovers that Illona's father (Now dead) was Crown Prince Rudolph - the only son of the Emperor Franz Joseph and the Princess Elizabeth.
The Duke meets with Dimitriyevitch. The Colonel is aware of the Dukes knowledge and ability and after gaining approval by the Voyvode Putnik http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Radomir_Putnik
the Duke is to be given the rank of lieutenant General in the Serbian army. The Duke suggests that he should go to Vienna to obtain information from their potential enemies. (The fact that Illona is also there is purely coincidental!!!!!)
Before leaving he sends a message back to Sir Pellinore in England to advise of his progress.
The Duke manages to see quite a lot of Illona whilst he is in Vienna but he eventually has to leave his 'Dangerous Liaison' as there is work to do.
He returns to Belgrade where he is initiated into 'The Black Hand'. It is a kind of Masonic ritual in a similar format to that given to Roger Brook when he was interrogated by the hooded men of 'Grand Orient' in 'The Rising Storm'
Now that the Duke is a member of 'The Black Hand' he is able to gain access to much more sensitive information. The major piece of news that he manages to obtain is the start date of the war (Sunday 28th June 1914) and what will cause it…the Archduke Franz Ferdinand is to be assassinated. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Assassination_of_Archduke_Franz_Ferdinand_of_Austria
The Duke makes plans to get to Sarajevo in order to warn the Archduke of the planned assassination.
He is, however delayed in his attempt as Dimitriyevitch and two of his men manage to find out that he is a spy. The letter that he had sent to England had been intercepted by the Serbian authorities.
Dimitriyevitch and his men take him to a secluded house and imprison him in a dark cellar (pending death).
The Duke manages to overcome his three adversaries and 'borrow' the Colonels Rolls- Royce to get to Sarajevo.
Despite heroic efforts he is unable to stop the murder. The Duke is hailed as a hero for putting his life at risk in the attempt. He is hospitalised in Sarajevo for a while to recover from injuries sustained but eventually he is returned to a hospital in Vienna thanks to illona's intervention.
The war has begun (as planned!!) and the Duke is now well enough to get involved and is keen to assist and to put the information he has gained to good use. This means leaving Vienna (and Illona). The couple have by now become besotted with each other. Illona unfortunately has become increasingly ill with Tuberculosis.
The Duke is delayed in his wish to leave Vienna when Major Maximillian Ronge (The Chief of Police) insists on detaining him as he is convinced that he is a spy and a murderer (with reference to the Dimitriyevitch battle).
Ronge is thwarted in his efforts to imprison him as Illona has made him a Colonel in the Hussar's - her personal Royal Guards; and whilst he is in the confines of the Royal premises is responsible directly to her. The Police can't touch him.
The Duke still needs to get to Germany and manages to get to Wartenburg, East Prussia accompanied by the Colonel Baron Lanzelin-Ungash Wallasee (Colonel Lanzi - for short). When they get to Wartenburg the Duke is recognised by two Germans who saw him coming out of the Carlton club in London .He escapes after knocking out the two men and drives into the countryside and just manages to catch a train that is heading for Germany.
On the train there happens to be two senior German officers one of which is Colonel Lanzi. The Duke immediately tells himself that neither of these two influential Germans will make it alive to Germany. He shoots both of them and makes it look as though they had shot each other. (The front cover of the 1958 Arrow Paperback I was reading shows the picture of 'Lanzi' being shot by the (Young) Duke on the train.) http://www.denniswheatley.info/sa-si.htm
The Duke carries on to German Main Headquarters at Aix La Chapelle (Or Aachen as it is also known). He passes on his reports and learns of significant German troop movements that need to be passed on to the British and French. He then heads for the Dutch border and manages to enter Maastricht. He is arrested by the Dutch Police as they initially think he is a deserter. Then, they find out that he has stolen a bike!! and that the Germans are after him. He manages to bribe a prison warder to post a note to Sir Pellinore. It works. He is released and manages to get a boat back to England.
Sir Pellinore and the Duke are soon off on their travels again…this time to France to pass on the German troop movement information. Whilst dining in the Hotel Ritz he bumps into a very good friend of Illona's.
She tells the Duke that she had seen Illona's specialist only yesterday. She has three day's to live.
Two afternoon's later the Duke is in a pine forest in Switzerland trying to see his love, whatever the risk.
Once again he is thwarted by the ex-valet of Colonel 'Lanzi' who recognises the Duke immediately.
The Duke is now imprisoned for the murder of the two German officers. Despite numerous attempts to get a few moments with Illona before the death sentence is carried out he finally accepts that he is not going to see her.
He asks the Prison Commandant to send him a priest at 03.00.
The Duke 'as gently as possible' exchanges clothes with him and manages to walk out of the castle.
The Duke and Illona finally meet and she tells him that new doctors have given her hope that she may live for quite a few years longer.
The next day the police arrive to re-arrest the Duke. Illona advises them that they have just married and the Police cannot arrest Royalty.
Arrow paperback (snippets)
Page 240 - 246 A really well constructed fight scene with the Duke and Dimitriyevitch. One of the highlights!
Page 248 - Another fight (this time with swords). The text states "The Duke was one of the finest swordsmen in Europe."
(Just like Roger Brook and the Three Musketeers!!)
Page 262 - The Duke sets his body clock so that he wakes up at the required time.
(I remember Gregory Sallust using this method in previous books)
Page 312 - Night came down upon a Saturnalia……Definition - a wild gathering involving excessive drinking and promiscuity
Page 319 - Major Maximillian Ronge is very fat; as several of DW's evil anti-heroes are. (Grauber and the famous Eunuch of Stamboul spring to mind)
DW states in his memoirs 'Drink and Ink';
When in Bavaria I stayed for some nights with that most distinguished teacher, Dr Kurt Hahn who had formerly been headmaster of Gordonstoun and Prince Philip's tutor. I gave Kurt a copy of 'The Second Seal' and when he had finished it he said, "Dennis, this book is remarkable. It gives the true facts about what happened and is just as fair to Germany and Austria as it is to Serbia, Russia, France and England. I intend to buy two hundred copies of it for my students. They loathe learning from their school books but they will simply lap this up and it will fix in their minds what really happened."
This book (according to Dennis Wheatley) is his best. I have to disagree with him.
As a history book it is marvellous. The storyline is informative and put together well, … but by picking this book up to read, it would be obvious that I didn't choose to read a read a history book…..this is supposedly a novel.
I found it very long-winded and at times boring. The love story (I felt) was almost thrown in to keep the readers interest...thank goodness.
I also think that some of the impact of this book is lost on readers who have already read other de Richleau books; we know that he lives to a ripe old age and so any 'near death scrapes that he gets into in this book will turn out without any loss of life to our hero.
The big positive is that it does inform us of the early years of the Dukes life and how he came to be (in my opinion) the greatest of the Wheatley characters.