The Second Seal

Stevie P
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The Second Seal

Postby Stevie P » Fri 18 Mar, 2011 14:54:16

SECOND SEAL
(A Red Horse.)
Revelations. 6:3-4.

"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/Assassinat ... 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.

Alan
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Postby Alan » Tue 22 Mar, 2011 15:32:31

Admitting all Stevie P's negatives, I still found it gave me a shiver to read it for the first time.

Charles
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Postby Charles » Thu 24 Mar, 2011 21:40:39

Another absolutely top-notch review , Steve - thank you !

As I mentioned when we chatted a while back, when I first read ‘The Second Seal’ as a teenager, I was bitterly disappointed. No Black Magic, lots of dusty history, and a sugary romance on top. Not at all what I was looking for !

With this in my memory, I steered clear of reading the book for many years, but a few years ago I decided to re-read all the de Richleau books (my favourites) in chronological plot order, and coming to it with unenthusiastic forebodings, I was surprised to find I enjoyed the book far more than I thought I was going to second time around.

First, because it told the story of what the Duke got up to in his early to mid thirties as an upper class playboy and soldier of fortune, how he met Sir Pellinore of Gregory Sallust fame, and how he ended up marrying one of the most famous royals in Europe, all of which was completely new.

Second, I found it interesting because I felt it was DW’s attempt to explore for himself how World War One came about – something about which he must have pondered a lot owing to own service in the War as a young man and his love of history. I think it is no accident that – to judge by the Blackwell’s catalogue - he read more books to prepare for writing ‘The Second Seal’ than just about any other of his books.

Third, while there may be an awful lot of history, on my re-reading, I thought there were some genuine nuggets too :-
As you mention, the magnificent fight scene with Dimitriyevitch and his henchmen – which to me is as good as any other fight scene in the entire Wheatley canon, and the next part, where he tries to stop the assassination at Sarajevo, is very good too.

One part I found particularly moving was the scene where the Duke kills Tauber, and because he is a witness, he is forced to kills an old acquaintance of whom he is quite fond – Lanzi. I think here we learn more about the Duke’s character than perhaps anywhere else in his books.

In other words, although there was much ‘padding’ I thought there were a number of real gems, and curiously, I have a sneaking feeling that as the years pass, and familiarity perhaps makes me read some other books less, I will come to read this one more and more.

Despite the fact it is somewhat unappealing initially, I think this is one that slowly but surely comes into its own. Perhaps in a few decades (but not yet !) my personal assessment will mirror DW’s own.

Again thank you, Steve, for an extremely interesting and thoughtful review.
Charles

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Postby Jim » Fri 25 Mar, 2011 02:58:55

Charles wrote: I steered clear of reading the book for many years, but a few years ago I decided to re-read all the de Richleau books (my favourites) in chronological plot order, and coming to it with unenthusiastic forebodings, I was surprised to find I enjoyed the book far more than I thought I was going to second time around.


That's very interesting; I might like to try them that way, too, some time. Of the non-Black Magic stories, my favorite--on first reading--was The Golden Spaniard.

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Postby Cibator » Fri 25 Mar, 2011 22:30:38

I've been intending for some time now to do a lengthy post that would examine the historical accuracy of DW's novels and other works. Unfortunately, events keep getting in the way! But I think I should strike while the iron's hot as far TSS is concerned.

While the big-picture information is correct, regarding the immediate pre-war political developments, the early battles, and the prominent figures who took part in them, the same cannot be said of some of the less well-known people.

Dragutin Dimitriyevic was a historical personage (as were his associates Tankosic and Ciganovic) and he did take part in the murder of King Alexander and Queen Draga in 1903. But the ultimate fates of the three conspirators were entirely different from how they're portrayed here. Dimitriyevic actually lived until June 1917, when he was arrested by the Serbian government along with many other Black Hand leaders, put on summary trial, condemned and shot.

Tankosic died in action in 1915. Apparently he was a sharp-shooter, as described by DW - he attempted to train Gavrilo Princip and the other Sarajevo assassins, and was dismayed to find how inept they all were at using handguns.

Ciganovic doesn't appear to have been in the Serbian army at all, and died of natural causes in 1927. His photo

http://www.spartacus.schoolnet.co.uk/FWWciganovic.htm

shows a strong jawline with no hint of a receding chin. (And yes: why do DW's villains almost invariably have unprepossessing physiques?)

As for Maximilian Ronge, I've also found a photo of him:

http://www.residenzverlag.at/?m=70&o=2&&id_title=1034

and he would seem to have been of slight to medium build - certainly not "very fat". (But Stevie P: is it Ronge or Major Tauber you're describing? I don't have a copy of the book, but p319 seems a bit late on for Ronge still to be featuring.)

Then we have Count Tisza, the Minister-President of Hungary. He was certainly opposed to the war, and tried his utmost for a diplomatic solution to the Sarajevo crisis. On the other hand he was a reactionary figure opposed to all political and social reform (and thus a man after De Richleau's own heart?) who didn't do much at all to help Hungary's repressed minorities. Hardly the almost saintly portrayal given in TSS!

But that's enough quibbling. The book is, after all, a novel, and as such I've always found it enthralling, even though the major outcomes are all known in advance. I agree the fight with Dimitriyevic & Co, and the attempt to forestall the assassination of Franz Ferdinand are DW at his very best. (Some day I must track down a large-scale map of the former Yugoslavia, and trace the Duke's epic journey across the mountains.) The journey to East Prussia and back with its on-train murders and the Duke's final coup at German General HQ are also very well done. The remainder of the book inevitably falls a bit flat after that tremendous climax, but the Ilona entanglement does finally prove to be a necessary device for extricating the Duke from his plight with the Austro-Hungarian authorities.

A great read, and certainly in DW's top three.
Fas est et ab hoste doceri

Stevie P
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Postby Stevie P » Mon 28 Mar, 2011 18:37:55

Hi Cibator,

I checked out page 319 On which Major Ronge is mentioned.
On Page 320 Ronge is described as....The Fat man (who) made no move toward the door. In fact Ronge is in the book until the last page as it is Major Ronge who is given the news that Illona and the Duke are now Husband and wife.
It probably goes to show that in DW's eyes only very fat men are 'Serious baddies'

I must lose a bit more weight......

Stevie P

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Postby Steve Whatley » Mon 28 Mar, 2011 18:58:19

You're ok, Steve - I can't imagine you looking even remotely sinister! (Although you could try to prove me wrong at the next Convention. Perhaps we could have a prize for the Conventioner who can look most satanic without any props or make-up!)

I suppose today DW would be dubbed 'fatist' for making so many of his villains obese.

It's a long time since I read this title, but I remember being slightly disappointed with it, knowing how highly DW rated it himself.[font=Courier New] [/font]

Stevie P
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Postby Stevie P » Tue 29 Mar, 2011 08:34:53

Thanks Steve W,

Remind me to buy you a drink in Lymington.

Like you, I was expecting more from this book. However, other people's comments suggest that it improves with a second reading and so I'll reserve all further criticism until I've re-read it.

The above comment is also my way of trying to avoid too much of a beating from Charles in July as I know he is a fan of this book.

One last point - 'The Fabulous Valley' was lightly criticised for being more of a travel guide than a novel. In a similar vein 'The 'Second Seal' is a more of a (top quality) history book than a novel.

I'll buy you a drink as well Charles. ;-)

Stevie P

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Postby Cibator » Tue 29 Mar, 2011 09:09:53

Thanks for the clarification, Stevie P. I suddenly remembered a day or two ago that Major Ronge was there right at the end, trying to arrest the Duke. (Moral: don't crit a book you haven't got a copy of!!) But it reinforces my point that DW sometimes strayed unnecessarily from historical truth.
Fas est et ab hoste doceri

Alan
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Postby Alan » Wed 30 Mar, 2011 12:08:51

Stevie P wrote:It probably goes to show that in DW's eyes only very fat men are 'Serious baddies'

I must lose a bit more weight......

Stevie P


I don't think Mocata or Dr Saturday were cases for weight-watchers, if that's any help... :)

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Postby ken68 » Wed 30 Mar, 2011 18:50:23

Top review as per Stevie P.
Been quite a long time since I read this and although I did find it dragged a bit in places I enjoyed but didn't think was anywhere near his best.
Surprised how much reading Stevies review brought back. I will take that as a sign that I must have enjoyed it more than a realised!
No more losing weight, you will make the rest of us look like the villains.

Ken

Stevie P
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Postby Stevie P » Thu 31 Mar, 2011 08:04:25

Thanks for the kind words Ken.

Alan - I was just checking out what you said re;

"I don't think Mocata or Dr Saturday were cases for weight-watchers, if that's any help... "

According to TDRO, Mocata was, Fleshy, Moonfaced & Bald with a Lisp. Not exactly the suave & sophisticated Charles Gray that we have come to know and love. (Is that the right term for a Satanist????) :twisted:

I didn't have time to check up on Dr Saturdays appearance - I don't recall him being fat.

Regards

Stevie P

Alan
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Postby Alan » Thu 31 Mar, 2011 14:33:36

Interestingly, I'd forgotten about his lisp - that's because DW (to his credit) doesn't write speech impediments phonetically, but tells the reader about them once and leves us to imagine it!

And Damien was addicted to sweets according to Simon, so I guess he'd stack it on a bit, but not up to Ronge standards...

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Postby duffellbag » Sat 5 Jul, 2014 21:38:37

Hi all,
Ive recently read this, filling in my readings gaps for the de richleau novels. Its not Wheatley's best novel, although for Wheatley, he considers it his best; perhaps he was proud of the novel due to his own experiences in the great war and its historical accuracy, with the recognition it received for this from sources; whch he relates in his introduction to the Heron edition. The problem with the novel is history squeezes out the plot in trying to relate an accurate description of events leading up to the Great War. In addition, he forgets the rules of the great historical romancer Dumas, who Wheatley so admired. This not to let history get in the way of the plot, but to subitly weave events into the narrative, as Wheatley did in other historical novels, such as the Prisoner in the Mask, or Vendetta in spain, and to some extent the Brook novels etc, which are more successful efforts generally.

The other problem is the novel lacks immediacy, in comparison to say, the Scarlet Impostor, which I regard as one of his finest novels, as he was writing and fictionalizing recent events, in this he excelled, the same way Dumas did with the historical romance novel. One method Wheatley's forte, the other Dumas'.

All said and done however, I enjoyed the novel very much and Wheatley does not try to make out any country to be the bad guy, but shows how events led to such a great calamity, taking a very different line to the Sallust WWII novels, many written in the heat of the events and striking an obvious patriotic note.
Now onto my last de richleau novel, Dangerous Inheritance...


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