The vice-president of the Brotherhood leaned forward and whispered to one of the secretaries, who, taking two men with him, left the room. A seat was given me. There was a pause of perhaps ten minutes. Not a whisper broke the silence. Then there came a rap at the door. The other secretary went to it. There was whispering and consultation; then the door opened and the secretary and his two companions entered, leading a large man, blindfolded. He wore a military uniform. They stopped in the middle of the room.
"General Jacob Quincy," said the stern voice of the president, "before we remove the bandage from your eyes I ask you to repeat, in this presence, the pledge you made to the representative of the Brotherhood, who called upon you today."
The man said:
"I was informed by your messenger that you had a communication to make to me which involved the welfare, and perhaps the lives, of the officers and men commanding and manning the air-vessels, or war-ships, called by the people 'The Demons.' You invited me here under a pledge of safe conduct; you left your messenger with my men, as hostage for my return; and I promised never to reveal to mortal ear anything that I might see or hear, except so far as it might be necessary, with your consent, to do so to warn my command of those dangers which you assure me threaten them. This promise I here renew, and swear by the Almighty God to keep it forever inviolate."
"Remove his bandage," said the president.
They did so, and there stood before me the handsome
and intelligent officer whom I had seen last night in the Prince of Cabano's council-chamber.
The president nodded to the cripple, as if by some pre-arrangement, and said, "Proceed."
"General Jacob Quincy," said the thin, penetrating voice of the vice-president of the Order, "you visited a certain house last night, on a matter of business, connected with your command. How many men knew of your visit?"
"Three," said the general, with a surprised look. "I am to communicate the results to a meeting of my command tomorrow night; but I thought it better to keep the matter pretty much to myself until that time."
"May I ask who were the men to whom you spoke of the matter?"
"I might object to your question," he said, "but that I suppose something important lies behind it. The men were my brother, Col. Quincy; my adjutant-general, Captain Underwood, and my friend Major Hartwright."
"Do you think any of these men would tell your story to any one else?"
"Certainly not. I would venture my life upon their prudence and secrecy, inasmuch as I asked them to keep the matter to themselves. But why do you ask such questions?"
"Because," said the wily cripple, "I have a witness here who is about to reveal to you everything you said and did in that council-chamber last night, even to the minutest detail. If you had told your story to many, or to untrustworthy persons, there might be a possibility that this witness had gleaned the facts from others; and that he had not been present, as he claims; and therefore that you could not depend upon what he says as to other matters of importance. Do you recognize the justice of my reasoning?"
"Certainly," said the general. "If you produce here a man who can tell me just where I was last night, what I said, and what was said to me, I shall believe that he was certainly
present; for I well know he did not get it from me or my friends; and I know, equally well, that none of those with whom I had communication would tell what took place to you or any friend of yours."
"Be kind enough to stand up," said the cripple to me. I did so.
"Did you ever see that man before?" he asked the general.
The general looked at me intently.
"Never," he replied.
"Have you ever seen this man before?" he asked me.
"Yes," I replied.
"When and where?"
"Last night; at the palace of Prince Cabano--in his council-chamber."
"Proceed, and tell the whole story."
I did so. The general listened closely, never relaxing his scrutiny of my face. When I had finished my account of the interview, the cripple asked the general whether it was a faithful narration of what had taken place. He said it was--wonderfully accurate in every particular.
"You believe him, then, to be a truthful witness," asked the cripple, "and that he was present at your interview, with the Council of the Plutocracy?"
'I do," said General Quincy.
"Now proceed," he said to me, "to tell what took place after this gentleman left the room."
I did so. The face of the general darkened into a scowl as I proceeded, and he flushed with rage when I had concluded my story.
"Do you desire to ask the witness any questions?" said the cripple.
"None at all," he replied.
He stood for several minutes lost in deep thought. I felt that the destiny of the world hung tremblingly in the balance. At last he spoke, in a low voice.
"Who represents your organization?" he asked.
"The Executive Committee," replied the president.
"Who are they?" he inquired.
"Myself,--the vice-president"--pointing to the cripple--"and yonder gentleman"--designating the cowled and masked figure of Maximilian, who stood near me.
"Could I have a private conference with you?" he asked.
"Yes," replied the president, somewhat eagerly; "come this way."
All four moved to a side door, which seemed to lead into another subterranean chamber;--the cripple carried a torch.
"Wait here for me," said Maximilian, as he passed me.
I sat down. The cowled figures remained seated around the walls. Not a sound broke the profound silence. I could see that all eyes were fixed upon the door by which the Executive Committee had left us, and my own were riveted there also.
We all felt the gravity of the occasion. Five minutes--ten minutes--fifteen minutes--twenty minutes passed. The door opened. We thought the conference was over. No; it was only the cripple; his face was uncovered and flushed with excitement. He walked quickly to the secretary's table; took up pen, ink and paper, and returned to the other cellar, closing the door after him. There was a movement among the cowled figures--whispers--excitement; they augured that things were going well--the agreement was to be reduced to writing! Five minutes more passed--then ten--then fifteen. The door opened, and they came out:--the gigantic Cæsar ahead. All the faces were uncovered, and I thought there was a look of suppressed triumph upon the countenances of the Executive Committee. The commander of the Demons looked sedate and thoughtful, like a man who had taken a very grave and serious step.
The president resumed the chair. He spoke to the secretary.
"You will cover the eyes of General Quincy," he said. "Take two men with you; accompany him to his carriage, then go with him to his residence, and bring back our hostage.--General," he said, "good night," and then added meaningly, "Au revoir!"
"Au revoir," said the general, as the handkerchief was adjusted over his face.
The commander of the Demons and his escort withdrew. The president sat consulting his watch, and when he was sure that they were beyond hearing, he sprang to his feet, his eyes glowing and his whole frame dilated with excitement.
"Brothers," he cried out, "we have got the world in our hands at last. The day is near we have so long toiled and waited for! The Demons are with us!"
The wildest demonstrations of joy followed--cheer after cheer broke forth; the men embraced each other.
"The world's slavery is at an end," cried one.
"Death to the tyrants!" shouted another.
"Down with the Oligarchy!" roared a third.
"Come," said Maximilian, taking me by the arm, "it is time to go."
He replaced the bandage over my eyes and led me out. For some time after I left the room, and while in the next cellar, I could hear the hoarse shouts of the triumphant conspirators. Victory was now assured. My heart sank within me. The monstrous chorus was chanting the requiem of a world.
In the carriage Maximilian was trembling with excitement. One thought seemed to be uppermost in his mind. "He will be free! He will be free!" he continually cried. When at last he grew more calm, he embraced me, and called me the preserver of himself; and all his family; and all his friends; and all his work,--the savior of his father! Then he became incoherent again. He cursed the baseness
of mankind. "It was noble," he said, "to crush a rotten world for revenge, or for justice' sake; but to sell out a trust, for fifty millions of the first plunder, was execrable--it was damnable. It was a shame to have to use such instruments. But the whole world was corrupt to the very core; there was not enough consistency in it to make it hang together. Yet there was one consolation--the end was coming! Glory be to God! The end was coming!"
And he clapped his hands and shouted, like a madman.
When he grew quieter I asked him what day the blow was to be struck. Not for some time, he said. In the morning the vice-president would take an air-ship to Europe, with a cipher letter from General Quincy to the commandant of the Demons in England--to be delivered in case it was thought safe to do so. The cripple was subtle and cunning beyond all men. He was to arrange for the purchase of the officers commanding the Demons all over Europe; and he was to hold a council of the leaders of the Brotherhood, and arrange for a simultaneous outbreak on both sides of the Atlantic, so that one continent should not come to the help of the other. If, however, this could not be effected, he was to return home, and the Brotherhood would precipitate the revolution all over America at the same hour, and take the chances of holding their own against the banker-government of Europe.
That night I lay awake a long time, cogitating; and the subject of my thoughts was--Estella.
It had been my intention to return to Africa before the great outbreak took place. I could not remain and witness the ruin of mankind. But neither could I leave Estella behind me. Maximilian might be killed. I knew his bold and desperate nature; he seemed to me to have been driven almost, if not quite, to insanity, by the wrongs of his father. Revenge had become a mania with him. If he perished in the battle what would become of Estella, in a world torn to pieces?
[paragraph continues] She had neither father, nor mother, nor home. But she loved me and I must protect her!
On the other hand, she was powerless and dependent on the kindness of strangers. Her speech in that moment of terror might have expressed more than she felt. Should I presume upon it? Should I take advantage of her distress to impose my love upon her? But, if the Brotherhood failed, might not the Prince recover her, and bear her back to his hateful palace and his loathsome embraces? Dangers environed her in every direction. I loved her; and if she would not accompany me to my home as my wife, she must go as my sister. She could not stay where she was. I must again save her.
I fell asleep and dreamed that Estella and I were flying into space on the back of a dragon, that looked very much like Prince Cabano.