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Chapter 19 THE COMMITTEE OF TEN

  • On the evening of the annual day of mourning, the party returned from th_ortress. The Archduchess slept. The Crown Prince talked, mostly to Hedwig, and even she said little. After a time the silence affected the boy's hig_pirits. He leaned back in his chair on the deck of the launch, and watche_he flying landscape. He counted the riverside shrines to himself. There were, he discovered, just thirteen between the fortress and the city limits.
  • Old Father Gregory sat beside him. He had taken off his flat black hat, and i_ay on his knee. The ends of his black woolen sash fluttered in the wind, an_e sat, benevolent hands folded, looking out.
  • From guns to shrines is rather a jump, and the Crown Prince found i_ifficult.
  • "Do you consider fighting the duty of a Christian?" inquired the Crown Princ_uddenly.
  • Father Gregory, whose mind had been far away, with his boys' school at Etzel, started.
  • "Fighting? That depends. To defend his home is the Christian duty of ever_an."
  • "But during the last war," persisted Otto, "we went across the mountains an_illed a lot of people. Was that a Christian duty?"
  • Father Gregory coughed. He had himself tucked up his soutane and walked fort_iles to join the army of invasion, where he had held services, cared for th_ounded, and fired a rifle, all with equal spirit. He changed the subject t_he big guns at the fortress.
  • "I think," observed the Crown Prince, forgetting his scruples, "that if yo_ave a pencil and an old envelope to draw on, I'll invent a big gun myself."
  • Which he proceeded to do, putting in a great many wheels and levers, an_dding, a folding-table at the side on which the gunners might have afternoo_ea—this last prompted by the arrival just then of cups and saucers and a te_ervice.
  • It was almost dark when the launch arrived at the quay. The red carpet wa_till there, and another crowd. Had Prince Ferdinand William Otto been les_aken up with finding one of his kid gloves, which he had lost, he would hav_oticed that there was a scuffle going on at the very edge of the red carpet, and that the beggar of the morning was being led away, between two policemen, while a third, running up the river bank, gingerly deposited a small roun_bject in the water, and stood back. It was merely one of the small incident_f a royal outing, and was never published in the papers. But Father Gregory, whose old eyes were far-sighted, had seen it all. His hand—the hand of th_hurch—was on the shoulder of the Crown Prince as they landed.
  • The boy looked around for the little girl of the bouquet. He took an immens_nterest in little girls, partly because he seldom saw any. But she was gone.
  • When the motor which had taken them from the quay reached the Palace, Hedwi_oused the Archduchess, whose head had dropped forward on her chest. "Here w_re, mother," she said. "You have had a nice sleep."
  • But Annunciata muttered something about being glad the wretched day was over, and every one save Prince Ferdinand William Otto seemed glad to get back. Th_oy was depressed. He felt, somehow, that they should have enjoyed it, an_hat, having merely endured it, they had failed him again.
  • He kissed his aunt's hand dutifully when he left her, and went with a laggin_tep to his own apartments. His request to have Hedwig share his supper ha_et with a curt negative.
  • The Countess, having left her royal mistress in the hands of her maids, wen_lso to her own apartment. She was not surprised, on looking into her mirror, to find herself haggard and worn. It had been a terrible day. Only a secon_ad separated that gaping lens in her bag from the eyes of the officers about.
  • Never, in an adventurous life, had she felt so near to death. Even now it_old breath chilled her.
  • However, that was over, well over. She had done well, too. A dozen pictures o_he fortress, of its guns, of even its mine chart as it hung on a wall, wer_n the bag. Its secrets, so securely held, were hers, and would be Karl's.
  • It was a cunningly devised scheme. Two bags, exactly alike as to appearance, had been made. One, which she carried daily, was what it appeared to be. Th_ther contained a camera, tiny but accurate, with a fine lens. When a knob o_he fastening was pressed, the watch slid aside and the shutter snapped. Th_ictures when enlarged had proved themselves perfect.
  • Pleading fatigue, she dismissed her maid and locked the doors. Then she opene_he sliding panel, and unfastened the safe. The roll of film was in her hand, ready to be deposited under the false bottom of her jewel-case.
  • Within the security of her room, the Countess felt at ease. The chill of th_ay left her, to be followed by a glow of achievement. She even sang a little, a bit of a ballad from her native mountains:
  • He has gone to the mountains, The far green mountains. (Hear the cattle lowin_s they drive them up the hill!) When he comes down he'll love me; When h_omes down he'll marry me. (But what is this that touches me with fingers dea_nd chill?)
  • Still singing, she carried the jewel-case to her table, and sat down befor_t. Then she put a hand to her throat.
  • The lock had been forced.
  • A glance about showed her that her code-book was gone. In the tray above, he_ewels remained untouched; her pearl collar, the diamond knickknacks th_rchduchess had given her on successive Christmases, even a handful of gol_oins, all were safe enough. But the code-book was gone.
  • Then indeed did the Countess look death in the face and found it terrible. Fo_ moment she could not so much as stand without support. It was then that sh_aw a paper folded under her jewels and took it out with shaking fingers. I_ine, copperplate script she read:
  • > MADAME,—To-night at one o'clock a closed fiacre will await you in the Stree_f the Wise Virgins, near the church. You will go in it, without fail, t_herever it takes you.
  • > (Signed)THE COMMITTEE OF TEN
  • The Committee of Ten! This thing had happened to her. Then it was true tha_he half-mythical Committee of Ten existed, that this terror of Livonia was _eal terror, which had her by the throat. For there was no escape. None. No_ndeed she knew that rumor spoke the truth, and that the Terrorists wer_verywhere. In daylight they had entered her room. They had known of the safe, known of the code. Known how much else?
  • Wild ideas of flight crossed her mind, to be as instantly abandoned for thei_utility. Where could she go that they would not follow her? When she ha_eacted from her first shock she fell to pondering the matter, pro and con.
  • What could they want of her? If she was an enemy to the country, so were they.
  • But even that led nowhere, for after all, the Terrorists were not enemies t_ivonia. They claimed indeed to be its friends, to hold in their hands it_uture and its betterment. Enemies of the royal house they were, of course.
  • She was nearly distracted by that time. She was a brave woman, physically an_entally of hard fiber, but the very name signed to the paper set her nerve_o twitching. It was the Committee of Ten which had murdered Prince Hubert an_is young wife; the Committee of Ten which had exploded a bomb in the ver_alace itself, and killed old Breidau, of the King's Council; the Committee o_en which had burned the Government House, and had led the mob in the studen_iots a year or so before.
  • Led them, themselves hidden. For none knew their identity. It was said tha_hey did not even know each other, wearing masks and long cloaks at thei_eetings, and being designated by numbers only.
  • In this dread presence, then, she would find herself that night! For she woul_o. There was no way out.
  • She sent a request to be excused from dinner on the ground of illness, an_as, as a result, visited by her royal mistress at nine o'clock. The honor wa_nexpected. Not often did the Archduchess Annunciata so favor any one. Th_ountess, lying across her bed in a perfect agony of apprehension, staggere_nto her sitting-room and knelt to kiss her lady's hand.
  • But the Archduchess, who had come to scoff, believing not at all in th_llness, took one shrewd glance at her, and put her hands behind her.
  • "It may be, as you say, contagious, Olga," she said. "You would better go t_ed and stay there. I shall send Doctor Wiederman to you."
  • When she had gone the Countess rang for her maid. She was cool enough now, an_hite, with a cruel line about her mouth that Minna knew well. She went to th_oor into the corridor, and locked it.
  • Then she turned on the maid. "I am ready for you, now."
  • "Madame will retire?"
  • "You little fool! You know what I am ready for!"
  • The maid stood still. Her wide, bovine eyes, filled with alarm, watched th_ountess as she moved swiftly across the room to her wardrobe. When she turne_bout again, she held in her hand a thin black riding-crop. Minna's rudd_olor faded. She knew the Loscheks, knew their furies. Strange stories o_nbridled passion had oozed from the old ruined castle where for so long the_ad held feudal sway over the countryside.
  • "Madame!" she cried, and fell on her knees. "What have I done? Oh, what have _one?"
  • "That is what you will tell me," said the Countess, and brought down the crop.
  • A livid stripe across the girl's face turned slowly to red.
  • "I have done nothing, I swear it. Mother of Pity, help me! I have don_othing."
  • The crop descended again, this time on one of the great sleeves of her peasan_ostume. So thin it was, so brutal the blow, that it cut into the muslin.
  • Groaning, the girl fell forward on her face. The Countess continued to strik_itiless blows into which she put all her fury, her terror, her frayed an_agged nerves.
  • The girl on the floor, from whimpering, fell to crying hard, with grea_oiseless sobs of pain and bewilderment. When at last the blows ceased, sh_ay still.
  • The Countess prodded her with her foot. "Get up," she commanded.
  • But she was startled when she saw the girl's face. It was she who was th_ool. The welt would tell its own story, and the other servants would talk. I_as already a deep purple, and swollen. Both women were trembling. Th_ountess, still holding the crop, sat down.
  • "Now!" she said. "You will tell me to whom you gave a certain small book o_hich you know."
  • "I, madame?"
  • "You."
  • "But what book? I have given nothing, madame. I swear it."
  • "Then you admitted some one to this room?"
  • "No one, madame, except—" She hesitated.
  • "Well?"
  • "There came this afternoon the men who clean madame's windows. No one else, madame."
  • She put her hand to her cheek, and looked furtively to see if her fingers wer_tained with blood. The Countess, muttering, fell to furious pacing of th_oom. So that was it, of course. The girl was telling the truth. She was to_tupid to lie. Then the Committee of Ten indeed knew everything—had known tha_he would be away, had known of the window cleaners, had known of the safe, and her possession of the code.
  • Cold and calculating rage filled her. Niburg had played her false, of course.
  • But Niburg was only a go-between. He had known nothing of the codebook. He ha_iven the Committee the letter, and by now they knew all that it told. Wha_id it not know?
  • She dismissed the girl and put away the riding-crop, then she smoothed th_isorder of her hair and dress. The court physician, calling a half hou_ater, found her reading on a chaise longue in her boudoir, looking pale an_andsome; and spent what he considered a pleasant half-hour with her. He love_ossip, and there was plenty just now. Indications were that they would have _edding soon. An unwilling bride, perhaps, eh? But a lovely one. For him, h_as glad that Karnia was to be an ally, and not an enemy. He had seen enoug_f wars. And so on and on, while the Countess smiled and nodded, and shivere_n her very heart.
  • At eleven o'clock he went away, kissing her hand rather more fervently tha_rofessionally, although his instinct to place his fingers over the puls_ather spoiled the effect. One thing, however, the Countess had gained by hi_isit. He was to urge on the Archduchess the necessity for an immediat_acation for her favorite.
  • "Our loss, Countess," he said, with heavy gallantry.. "But we cannot allo_eauty to languish for need of mountain air."
  • Then at last he was gone, and she went about her heavy-hearted preparation_or the night. From a corner of her wardrobe she drew a long peasant's cape, such a cape as Minna might wear. Over her head, instead of a hat, she threw _ray veil. A careless disguise, but all that was necessary. The sentrie_hrough and about the Palace were not unaccustomed to such shrouded figure_lipping out from its gloom to light, and perhaps to love.
  • Before she left, she looked about the room. What assurance had she that thi_ery excursion was not a trap, and that in her absence the vault would not h_ooted again? It contained now something infinitely valuable—valuable an_ncriminating—the roll of film. She glanced about, and seeing a silver vase o_oses, hurriedly emptied the water out, wrapped the film in oiled paper, an_ropped it down among the stems.
  • The Street of the Wise Virgins was not near the Palace. Even by walkin_riskly she was in danger of being late. The wind kept her back, too. Th_loak twisted about her, the veil whipped. She turned once or twice to see i_he were being followed, but the quiet streets were empty. Then, at last, th_treet of the Wise Virgins and the fiacre, standing at the curb, with a drive_rapped in rugs against the cold of the February night, and his hat pulle_own over his eyes. The Countess stopped beside him.
  • "You are expecting a passenger?"
  • "Yes, madame."
  • With her hand on the door, the Countess realized that the fiacre was alread_ccupied. As she peered into its darkened interior, the shadow resolved itsel_nto a cloaked and masked figure. She shrank back.
  • "Enter, madame," said a voice.
  • The figure appalled her. It was not sufficient to know that behind th_orrifying mask which covered the entire face and head, there was a huma_igure, human pulses that beat, human eyes that appraised her. She hesitated.
  • "Quickly," said the voice.
  • She got in, shrinking into a corner of the carriage.
  • Her lips were dry, the roaring of terror was in her ears. The door closed.
  • Then commenced a drive of which afterward the Countess dared not think. Th_igure neither moved nor spoke. Inside the carriage reigned the most complet_ilence. The horse's feet clattered over rough stones, they turned throug_arrow, unfamiliar streets, so that she knew not even the direction they took.
  • After a time the noise grew less. The horse padded along dirt roads, i_arkness. Then the carriage stopped, and at last the shrouded figure moved an_poke.
  • "I regret, Countess, that my orders are to blindfold you."
  • She drew herself up haughtily.
  • "That is not necessary, I think."
  • "Very necessary, madame."
  • She submitted ungracefully, while he bound a black cloth over her eyes. H_rew it very close and knotted it behind. In the act his—fingers touched he_ace, and she felt them cold and clammy. The contact sickened her.
  • "Your hand, madame."
  • She was led out of the carriage, and across soft earth, a devious cours_gain, as though they avoided small obstacles. Once her foot touched somethin_ow and hard, like marble. Again, in the darkness, they stumbled over a mound.
  • She knew where she was, then—in a graveyard. But which? There were many abou_he city.
  • An open space, the opening of a gate or door that squealed softly, a flight o_teps that led downward, and a breath of musty, cold air, damp and cellar- like.
  • She was calmer now. Had they meant to kill her, there had been already _undred chances. It was not death, then, that awaited her—at least, no_mmediate death. These precautions, too, could only mean that she was to b_reed again, and must not know where she had been.
  • At last, still in unbroken silence, she knew that they had entered a larg_pace. Their footsteps no longer echoed and re-echoed. Her guide walked mor_lowly, and at last paused, releasing her hand. She felt again the touch o_is clammy fingers as he untied the knots of her bandage. He took it off.
  • At first she could see little. The silence remained unbroken, and only th_enter of the room was lighted. When her eyes grew accustomed, she made ou_he scene slowly.
  • A great stone vault, its walls broken into crypts which had contained casket_f the dead. But the caskets had been removed; and were piled in a corner, an_n the niches were rifles. In the center was a pine table, curiousl_ncongruous, and on it writing materials, a cheap clock, and a pile o_ocuments. There were two candles only, and these were stuck in skulls—ol_rown skulls so infinitely removed from all semblance to the human that the_ere not even horrible. It was as if they had been used, not to inspir_error, but because they were at hand and convenient for the purpose. In th_hadow, ranged in a semicircle, were nine figures, all motionless, all masked, and cloaked in black. They sat, another incongruity, on plain wooden chairs.
  • But in spite of that they were figures of dread. The one who had brought he_ade the tenth.
  • Still the silence, broken only by the drip of water from the ceiling into _in pail.
  • Had she not known the past record of the men before her, the rather oper_ouffe setting with which they chose to surround themselves might have arouse_er scorn. But Olga Loschek knew too much. She guessed shrewdly that, with th_lass of men with whom they dealt, it was not enough that their name spelle_error. They must visualize it. They had taken their cue from that ver_hurch, indeed, beneath which they hid. The church, with its shrines an_mages, appealed to the eye. They, too, appealed to the eye. Their masks, th_arefully constructed and upheld mystery of their identity, the trappings o_eath about them—it was skillfully done.
  • Not that she was thinking consecutively just then. It was a mental flash, eve_s her eyes, growing accustomed to the darkness made out the white numeral, from one to ten, on the front of each shroud-like cloak.
  • Still no one spoke. The Countess faced them.
  • Only her eyes showed her nervousness; she stood haughtily, her head held high.
  • But like most women, she could not endure silence for long, at least th_ilence of shrouded figures and intent eyes.
  • "Now that I am here," she demanded, "may I ask why I have been summoned?"
  • It was Number Seven who replied. It was Number Seven who, during the hour tha_ollowed, spoke for the others. None moved, or but slightly. There was n_utting together of heads, no consulting. Evidently all had been carefull_rearranged.
  • "Look on the table, Countess. You will find there some papers you will perhap_ecognize."
  • She took a step toward the table and glanced down. The code-book lay there.
  • Also the letter she had sent by Peter Niburg. She made no effort to disclai_hem.
  • "I recognize them," she said clearly.
  • "You acknowledge, then, that they are yours?"
  • "I acknowledge nothing."
  • "They bear certain indications, madame."
  • "Possibly."
  • "Do you realize what will happen, madame, if these papers are turned over t_he authorities?"
  • She shrugged her shoulders. And now Number Seven rose, a tall figure o_ystery, and spoke at length in a cultivated, softly intoned voice. Th_ountess, listening, felt the voice vaguely familiar, as were the burning eye_ehind the mask.
  • "It is our hope, madame," he said, "that you will make it unnecessary for th_ommittee of Ten to use those papers. We have no quarrel with women. We wis_ather a friend than an enemy. There be those, many of them, who call us poo_atriots, who would tear down without building up. They are wrong. Th_ommittee of Ten, to those who know its motives, has the highest and mos_oyal of ideals—to the country."
  • His voice took on a new, almost a fanatic note. He spoke as well to the othe_hrouded figures as to his comrades. No mean orator this. He seldom raised hi_oice, he made no gestures. Almost, while she listened, the Countes_nderstood.
  • They had watched the gradual decay of the country, he said. Its burden o_axation grew greater each year. The masses sweated and toiled, to carry o_heir backs the dead weight of the aristocracy and the throne. The iron han_f the Chancellor held everything; an old King who would die, was dying now, and after that a boy, nominal ruler only, while the Chancellor continued hi_ard rule. And now, as if that were not enough, there was talk of an allianc_ith Karnia, an alliance which, carried through, would destroy the hope of _epublic.
  • The Countess stared.
  • "No wall is too thick for our ears," he continued. "Our eyes see everywhere.
  • And as we grow in strength, they fear us. Well they may."
  • He grew scornful then. To gain support for the tottering throne the Chancello_ould unite the two countries, that Karl's army, since he could not trust hi_wn, might be called on for help. And here he touched the Countess's ra_erves with a brutal finger.
  • "The price of the alliance, madame, is the Princess Hedwig in marriage. Th_ommittee, which knows all things, believes that you have reason to dislik_his marriage."
  • Save that she clutched her cloak more closely, the Countess made no move. Bu_here was a soft stir among the figures. Perhaps, after all, the Committee a_ whole did not know all things.
  • "To prevent this alliance, madame, is our first aim. There are others t_ollow. But"—he bent forward—"the King will not live many days. It is our hop_hat that marriage will not occur before his death."
  • By this time Olga Loschek knew very well where she stood. The Committee wa_ropitiatory. She was not in danger, save as it might develop. They were, in _easure, putting their case.
  • She had followed the speaker closely. When he paused, she was ready for him.
  • "But, even without a marriage, at any time now a treaty based on the marriag_ay be signed. A treaty for a mutually defensive alliance. Austria encroache_aily, and has Germany behind her. We are small fry, here and in Karnia, an_e stand in the way."
  • "King Karl has broken faith before. He will not support Livonia until he ha_eceived his price. He is determined on the marriage."
  • "A marriage of expediency," said the Countess, impatiently.
  • The speaker for the Committee shrugged his shoulders. "Perhaps," he replied.
  • "Although there are those of us who think that in this matter of expediency, Karl gives more than he receives. He is to-day better prepared than we are fo_ar. He is more prosperous. As to the treaty, it is probably already signed, or about to be. And here, madame, is the reason for our invitation to you t_ome here.
  • "I have no access to state papers," the Countess said impatiently.
  • "You are too modest," said Number Seven suavely, and glanced at the letter o_he table.
  • "The matter lies thus, madame. The Chancellor is now in Karnia. Doubtless h_ill return with the agreement signed. We shall learn that in a day or so. W_o not approve of this alliance for various reasons, and we intend to tak_teps to prevent it. The paper itself is nothing. But plainly, Countess, th_eed a friend in the Palace, one who is in the confidence of the roya_amily."
  • "And for such friendship, I am to secure safety?"
  • "Yes, madame. But that is not all. Let me tell you briefly how things stan_ith us. We have, supporting us, certain bodies, workingmen's guilds, a par_f the student body, not so much of the army as we would wish. Dissatisfie_olk, madame, who would exchange the emblem of tyranny for freedom. On th_nnouncement of the King's death, in every part of the kingdom will go up th_ry of liberty. But the movement must start here. The city must rise agains_he throne. And against that there are two obstacles." He paused. The cloc_icked, and water dripped into the tin pail with metallic splashes. "The firs_s this marriage. The second—is the Crown Prince Ferdinand William Otto."
  • The Countess recoiled. "No!"
  • "A moment, madame. You think badly of us." Under his mask the Countess divine_ cold smile. "It is not necessary to contemplate violence. There are othe_ethods. The boy could be taken over the border, and hidden until the Republi_s firmly established. After that, he is unimportant."
  • The Countess, still pale, looked at him scornfully. "You do my intelligenc_mall honor."
  • "Where peaceful methods will avail, our methods are peaceful, madame."
  • "It was, then, in peace that you murdered Prince Hubert?"
  • "The errors of the past are past." Then, with a new sternness: "Make n_istake. Whether through your agency or another, Countess, when the Cathedra_ell rouses the city to the King's death, and the people wait in the Place fo_heir new King to come out on the balcony, he will not come."
  • The Countess was not entirely bad. Standing swaying and white-faced before th_ribunal, she saw suddenly the golden head of the little Crown Prince, saw hi_miling as he had smiled that day in the sunlight, saw him troubled an_orlorn as he had been when, that very evening, he had left them to go to hi_onely rooms. Perhaps she reached the biggest moment of her life then, whe_he folded her arms and stared proudly at the shrouded figures before her.
  • "I will not do it," she said.
  • Then indeed the tribunal stirred, and sat forward. Perhaps never before had i_een defied.
  • "I will not," repeated the Countess.
  • But Number Seven remained impassive. "A new idea, Countess!" he said suavely.
  • "I can understand that your heart recoils. But this thing is inevitable, as _ave said. Whether you or another but perhaps with time to think you may com_o another conclusion. We make no threats. Our position is, however, one o_esponsibility. We are compelled to place the future of the Republic befor_very other consideration."
  • "That is a threat."
  • "We remember both our friends and our enemies, madame. And we have onl_riends and enemies. There is no middle course. If you would like time t_hink it over—"
  • "How much time?" She clutched at the words.
  • With time all things were possible. The King might die soon, that night, th_ext day. Better than any one, save his daughter Annunciata and th_hysicians, she knew his condition. The Revolutionists might boast, but the_ere not all the people. Once let the boy be crowned, and it would take mor_han these posing plotters in their theatrical setting to overthrow him.
  • "How much time may I have?"
  • "Women vary," said Number Seven mockingly. "Some determine quickly. Others—"
  • "May I have a month?"
  • "During which the King may die! Alas, madame, it is now you who do us to_ittle honor!"
  • "A week?" begged the Countess desperately.
  • The leader glanced along the line. One head after another nodded slowly.
  • "A week it is, madame. Comrade Five!"
  • The one who had brought her came forward with the bandage.
  • "At the end of one week, madame, a fiacre will, as to-night, be waiting in th_treet of the Wise Virgins."
  • "And these papers?"
  • "On the day the Republic of Livonia is established, madame, they will b_eturned to you."
  • He bowed, and returned to his chair. Save for the movements of the man wh_laced the bandage over her eyes; there was absolute silence in the room.