He opened the door of a room and pushed me into it. "Wait," he whispered, "for my orders." I looked around me. It was Rudolph's room--the one I had been in before. I was not alone. There was a young gentleman standing at a window, looking out into the garden. He turned around and advanced toward me, with his hand extended and a smile on his face. It was Estella! looking more charming than ever in her masculine dress. I took her hand. Then my heart smote me; and I fell upon my knees before her.
"O Estella," I cried, "pardon me. I would have sacrificed you for mankind--you that are dearer to me than the whole human race. Like a fool I broke from my hiding-place, and appealed to those hearts of stone--those wild beasts--those incarnate fiends--to spare the world the most dreadful calamity it has ever known. They proposed to murder ten million human beings! I forgot my task--my duty--you--my own safety--everything, to save the world."
Her eyes dilated as I spoke, and then, without a trace of mock modesty, without a blush, she laid her hand upon my head and said simply:
"If you had done less, I should have loved you less. What am I in the presence of such a catastrophe? But if you are to die we can at least perish together. In that we have the mastery of our enemies. Our liberty is beyond their power."
"But you shall not die," I said, wildly, springing to my feet. "The assassin comes! Give me the poisoned knife. When he opens the door I shall slay him. I shall bear you with me. Who will dare to arrest our departure with that dreadful
weapon--that instantaneous death--shining in my hand. Besides, I carry a hundred lives at my girdle. Once in the streets, we can escape."
She took from the pocket of her coat the sheathed dagger and handed it to me.
"We must, however, be guided by the counsels of Rudolph," she quietly said; "he is a faithful friend."
"True," I replied.
We sat near each other. I presumed nothing upon the great admission she had so gravely made. This was a woman to be worshiped rather than wooed. I told her all the story of my life. I described my home in that strange, wild, ancient, lofty land; my mother, my brothers; the wide, old, roomy house; the trees, the flowers, the clustering, bleating sheep.
A half hour passed. The door opened. A burst of laughter and the clinking of glasses resounded through it. Rudolph entered.
"The Prince and his friends," he said, "make merry over their assured victory. If you will tell Maximilian all you have heard to-night, the result may be different from what they anticipate. Come with me."
He led the way through a suite of two or three rooms which communicated with his apartment.
"We must throw the hounds off the scent of the fox," he said; and, to our astonishment, he proceeded to tear down the heavy curtains from two windows, having first locked the door and closed the outer shutters. He then tore the curtains into long strips, knotting them together; we pulled upon them to test their strength. He then opened one of the windows and dropped the end of the long rope thus formed out of it, fastening the other to a heavy piece of furniture, within the room.
"That will account for your escape," he said. "I have already thrown the rope ladder from the window of the room
[paragraph continues] Estella occupied. These precautions are necessary for my own safety."
Then, locking the communicating doors, we returned to his room.
"Put this cloak over your shoulders," he said; "it will help disguise you. Walk boldly down these stairs," opening another door--not the one we had entered by; "turn to the right--to the right, remember--and on your left hand you will soon find a door--the first you will come to. Open it. Say to the man on guard: 'Show me to the carriage of Lord Southworth.' There is no such person; but that is the signal agreed upon. He will lead you to the carriage. Maximilian is the footman. Farewell, and may God bless you."
We shook hands. I followed his directions; we met no one; I opened the door; the guard, as soon as I uttered the password, led me, through a mass of carriages, to where one stood back under some overhanging trees. The footman hurried to open the door. I gave my hand to Estella; she sprang in; I followed her. But this little movement of instinctive courtesy on my part toward a woman had been noticed by one of the many spies hanging around. He thought it strange that one man should offer his hand to assist another into a carriage. He whispered his suspicions to a comrade. We had hardly gone two blocks from the palace when Maximilian leaned down and said: "I fear we are followed."
Our carriage turned into another street, and then into another. I looked out and could see--for the streets were very bright with the magnetic light--that, some distance behind us, came two carriages close together, while at a greater distance, behind them, I caught sight of a third vehicle. Maximilian leaned down again and said:
"We are certainly pursued by two carriages. The third one I recognize as our own--the man with the bombs. We will drive to the first of the houses we have secured. Be ready to spring out the moment we stop, and follow me quickly into
the house, for all depends on the rapidity of our movements."
In a little while the carriage suddenly stopped. I took Estella's hand. She needed no help. Maximilian was ascending the steps of a house, key in hand. We followed. I looked back. One of our pursuers was a block away; the other a little behind him. The carriage with the bombs I could not see--it might be obscured by the trees, or it might have lost us in the fierce speed with which we had traveled.
"Quick," said Maximilian, pulling us in and locking the door.
We followed him, running through a long, lighted hall, out into a garden; a gate flew open; we rushed across the street and sprang into another carriage; Maximilian leaped to his place; crack went the whip, and away we flew; but on the instant the quick eyes of my friend saw, rapidly whirling around the next corner, one of the carriages that had been pursuing us.
"They suspected our trick," said he. "Where, in heaven's name, is the man with the bombs?" he added, anxiously.
Our horses were swift, but still that shadow clung to us; the streets were still and deserted, for it was after midnight; but they were as bright as if the full moon shone in an unclouded sky.
"Ah! there he comes, at last," said Maximilian, with a sigh of relief. "I feared we might meet another carriage of the police, and this fellow behind us would call it to his help, and our case would be desperate, as they would know our trick. We should have to fight for it. Now observe what takes place."
Estella, kneeling on the cushions, looked out through the glass window in the back of the carriage; I leaned far out at the side.
"See, Estella," I cried, "how that hindmost team flies! They move like race-horses on the course."
Nearer and nearer they come to our pursuers; they are
close behind them; the driver of the front carriage seems to know that there is danger; he lashes his horses furiously; it is in vain. Now they are side by side--side by side for a time; but now our friends forge slowly ahead. The driver of the beaten team suddenly pulls his horses back on their haunches. It is too late. A man stands up on the seat of the front carriage-it is an open barouche. I could see his arm describe an arc through the air; the next instant the whole street was ablaze with a flash of brilliant red light, and the report of a tremendous explosion rang in my ears. Through the smoke and dust I could dimly see the horses of our pursuers piled in a heap upon the street, kicking, plunging, dying.
"It is all right now," said Maximilian quietly; and then he spoke to the driver: "Turn the next corner to the left."
After having made several changes of direction--with intent to throw any other possible pursuers off the track--and it being evident that we were not followed, except by the carriage of our friends, we drove slowly to Maximilian's house and alighted.
The sweet-faced old lady took the handsome, seeming boy, Estella, in her arms, and with hearty cordiality welcomed her to her new home. We left them together, mingling tears of joy.
Max and I adjourned to the library, and there, at his request, I told him all that had happened in the council-chamber. He smoked his cigar and listened attentively. His face darkened as I repeated the spy's story, but he neither admitted nor denied the truth of the part which I thought related to himself. When I told him about the commander of the air-ships, his interest was so great that his cigar went out; and when I narrated the conversation which occurred after General Quincy had left the room his face lighted up with a glow of joy. He listened intently to the account of the Prince's plan of battle, and smiled grimly. But when I
told how I came from my hiding-place and appealed to the oligarchy to spare mankind, he rose from his chair and walked the room, profoundly agitated; and when I had finished, by narrating how Rudolph led me to his room, to the presence of Estella, he threw his arms around my neck, and said, "You dear old fool! It was just like you;" but I could see that his eyes were wet with emotion.
Then he sat for some time in deep thought. At last he said:
"Gabriel, would you be willing to do something more to serve me?"
"Certainly," I replied; "anything."
"Would you go with me to-morrow night and tell this tale to the council of our Brotherhood? My own life and the lives of my friends, and the liberty of one dear to me, may depend upon your doing so."
"I shall go with you most willingly," I said. "To tell you the truth," I added, "While I cannot approve of your terrible Brotherhood, nevertheless what I have seen and heard tonight satisfies me that the Plutocrats should no longer cumber the earth with their presence. Men who can coolly plot, amid laughter, the death of ten million human beings, for the purpose of preserving their ill-gotten wealth and their ill-used power, should be exterminated from the face of the planet as enemies of mankind--as poisonous snakes--vermin."
He grasped my hand and thanked me.
It was pleasant to think, that night, that Estella loved me; that I had saved her; that we were under the same roof; and I wove visions in my brain brighter than the dreams of fairyland; and Estella moved everywhere amid them, a radiant angel.