While the applause that followed this diabolical scheme rang loud and long around the council-chamber, I stood there paralyzed. My eyes dilated and my heartbeat furiously. I was overwhelmed with the dreadful, the awful prospect, so coolly presented by that impassive, terrible man. My imagination was always vivid, and I saw the whole horrid reality unrolled before me like a panorama. The swarming streets filled with the oppressed people; the dark shadows of the Demons floating over them; the first bomb; the terror; the confusion; the gasping of the dying; the shrieks, the groans--another and another bomb falling here, there, everywhere; the surging masses rushing from death to death; the wild flight; the barricades a line of fire and bayonets; the awful and continuous rattle of the guns, sounding like the grinding of some dreadful machinery that crunches the bones of the living; the recoil from the bullets to the poison; the wounded stumbling over the dead, now covering the streets in strata several feet thick; and still the bombs crash and the poison spreads. Death! death! nothing but death! Ten million dead! Oh, my God!
I clasped my head--it felt as if it would burst. I must save the world from such a calamity. These men are human. They cannot be insensible to an appeal for mercy--for justice!
Carried away by these thoughts, I stooped down and unclasped the hooks; I pushed aside the box; I crawled out; the next moment I stood before them in the full glare of the electric lamps.
"For God's sake," I cried, "save the world from such an
awful calamity! Have pity on mankind; even as you hope that the Mind and Heart of the Universe will have pity on you. I have heard all. Do not plunge the earth into horrors that will shock the very stars in their courses. The world can be saved! It can be saved! You have power. Be pitiful. Let me speak for you. Let me go to the leaders of this insurrection and bring you together."
"He is mad," said one.
"No, no," I replied, "I am not mad. It is you that are mad. It is the wretched people who are mad--mad with suffering and misery, as you with pride and hardness of heart. You are all men. Hear their demands. Yield a little of your superfluous blessings; and touch their hearts--with kindness, and love will spring up like flowers in the track of the harrow. For the sake of Christ Jesus, who died on the cross for all men, I appeal to you. Be just, be generous, be merciful. Are they not your brethren? Have they not souls like yourselves? Speak, speak, and I will toil as long as I can breathe. I will wear the flesh from off my bones, if I can reconcile the castes of this wretched society, and save civilization."
The Prince had recoiled with terror at my first entrance. He had now rallied his faculties.
"How did you come here?" he asked.
Fortunately the repulsive coldness with which the Council had met my earnest appeals, which I had fairly shrieked at them, had restored to some extent the balance of my reason. The thought flashed over me that I must not betray Rudolph.
"Through yonder open window," I replied.
"How did you reach it?" asked the Prince.
"I climbed up the ivy vine to it."
"What did you come here for?" he asked.
"To appeal to you, in the name of God, to prevent the coming of this dreadful outbreak."
"The man is a religious fanatic," said one of the Council to another; "probably one of the street preachers."
The Prince drew two or three of the leaders together, and they whispered for a few minutes. Then he went to the door and spoke to Rudolph. I caught a few words: "Not leave--alive--send for Macarius--midnight--garden."
Rudolph advanced and took me by the arm. The revulsion had come. I was dazed--overwhelmed. There swept over me, like the rush of a flood, the dreadful thought: "What will become of Estella?" I went with him like a child. I was armed, but an infant might have slain me.
When we were in the hall, Rudolph said to me, in a hoarse whisper:
"I heard everything. You meant nobly; but you were foolish--wild. You might have ruined us all. But there is a chance of escape yet. It will be an hour before the assassin will arrive. I can secure that much delay. In the meantime, be prudent and silent, and follow my directions implicitly."
I promised, very humbly, to do so.