While the birthday supper was at its height, in the bureau of the concierg_at old Adelbert, heavy and despairing. That very day had he learned to wha_se the Committee would put the information he had given them, and his ol_eart was dead within him. One may not be loyal for seventy years, and the_asily become a traitor.
He had surveyed stonily the costume in which the little Prince was to be take_way. He had watched while the boxes of ammunition were uncovered in thei_arrels, he had seen the cobbler's shop become a seething hive of activity, where all day men had come and gone. He had heard the press beneath his fee_all silent because its work was done, and at dusk he had with his own eye_eheld men who carried forth, under their arms, blazing placards for the wall_f the town.
Then, at seven o'clock, something had happened.
The concierge's niece had gone, leaving the supper ready cooked on the back o_he stove. Old Adelbert sat alone, and watched the red bars of the stove fad_o black. By that time it was done, and he was of the damned. The Crow_rince, who was of an age with the American lad upstairs, the Crown Prince wa_n the hands of his enemies. He, old Adelbert, had done it.
And now it was forever too late. Terrible thoughts filled his mind. He coul_ot live thus, yet he could not die. The daughter must have the pension. H_ust live, a traitor, he on whose breast the King himself had pinned _ecoration.
He wore his new uniform, in honor of the day. Suddenly he felt that he coul_ot wear it any longer. He had no right to any uniform. He who had sold hi_ountry was of no country.
He went slowly out and up the staircase, dragging his wooden leg painfull_rom step to step. He heard the concierge come in below, his heavy footstep_eechoed through the building. Inside the door he called furiously to hi_iece. Old Adelbert heard him strike a match to light the gas.
On the staircase he met the Fraulein hurrying down. Her face was strained an_er eyes glittering. She hesitated, as though she would speak, then she wen_n past him. He could hear her running. It reminded the old man of that day i_he Opera, when a child ran down the staircase, and, as is the way of the old, he repeated himself: "One would think new legs grew in place of old ones, lik_he claws of sea-creatures," he said fretfully. And went on up the staircase.
In his room he sat down on a straight chair inside the door, and stared ahead.
Then, slowly and mechanically, he took off his new uniform and donned the ol_ne. He would have put on civilian clothes, had he possessed any. For by th_eeds of that day he had forfeited the right to the King's garb.
It was there that Black Humbert, hurrying up, found him. The concierge wa_ivid, his massive frame shook with excitement.
"Quick!" he said, and swore a great oath. "To the shop of the cobbler Heinz, and tell him this word. Here in the building is the boy."
The concierge closed a great hand on the veteran's shoulder. "Who but th_rown Prince himself!" he said.
"But I thought—how can he be here?"
"Here is he, in our very hands. It is no time to ask questions."
"If he is here—"
"He is with the Americans," hissed the concierge, the veins on his forehea_wollen with excitement. "Now, go, and quickly. I shall watch. Say that when _ave secured the lad, I shall take him there. Let all be ready. An hour ago,"
he said, raising his great fists on high, "and everything lost. Now hurry, ol_ooden leg. It is a great night."
"But—I cannot. Already I have done too much. I am damned. I have lost my soul.
I who am soon to die."
"YOU WILL GO."
And, at last, he went, hobbling down the staircase recklessly, because th_ooming figure at the stair head was listening. He reached the street. There, only a block away, was the cobbler's shop, lighted, but with the dirt_urtains drawn across the window.
Old Adelbert gazed at it. Then he commended his soul to God, and turned towar_he Palace.
He passed the Opera. On Carnival night it should have been open and in gal_rray, with lines of carriages and machines before it. It was closed, an_reary. But old Adelbert saw it not at all. He stumped along, panting wit_aste and exhaustion, to do the thing he had set himself to do.
Here was the Palace. Before it were packed dense throngs of silent people. No_nd then a man put down a box, and rising on it, addressed the crowd, attempting to rouse them. Each time angry hands pulled him down, and hisse_reeted him as he slunk away.
Had old Adelbert been alive to anything but his mission, he would have see_hat this was no mob of revolutionists, but a throng of grieving people, awaiting the great bell of St. Stefan's with its dire news.
Then, above their heads, it rang out, slow, ominous, terrible. A sob ra_hrough the crowd. In groups, and at last as a whole, the throng knelt. Me_ncovered and women wept.
The bell rang on. At its first notes old Adelbert stopped, staggered, almos_ell. Then he uncovered his head.
"Gone!" he said. "The old King! My old King!"
His face twitched. But the horror behind him drove him on through the kneelin_rowd. Where it refused to yield, he drove the iron point of his wooden le_nto yielding flesh, and so made his way.
Here, in the throng, Olga of the garderobe met him, and laid a trembling han_n his arm. He shook her off, but she clung to him.
"Know you what they are saying?" she whispered. "That the Crown Prince i_tolen. And it is true. Soldiers scour the city everywhere."
"Let me go," said old Adelbert, fiercely.
"They say," she persisted, "that the Chancellor has made away with him, t_ell us to Karnia."
"Fools!" cried old Adelbert, and pushed her off. When she refused to releas_im, he planted his iron toe on her shapely one and worked his way forward.
The crowd had risen, and now stood expectantly facing the Palace. Some on_aised a cry and others took it up.
"The King!" they cried. "Show us the little King!"
But the balcony outside the dead King's apartments remained empty. Th_urtains at the long windows were drawn, save at one, opened for air. Th_reeze shook its curtains to and fro, but no small, childish figure emerged.
The cries kept up, but there was a snarl in the note now.
"The King! Long live the King! Where is he?"
A man in a red costume, near old Adelbert, leaped on a box and lighted _laming torch. "Aye!" he yelled, "call for the little King. Where is he? Wha_ave they done with him?"
Old Adelbert pushed on. The voice of the revolutionist died behind him, in _horus of fury. From nowhere, apparently, came lighted box-banners proclaimin_he Chancellor's treason, and demanding a Republic. Some of them instructe_he people to gather around the Parliament, where, it was stated, leadin_itizens were already forming a Republic. Some, more violent, suggested a_dvance on the Palace.
The crowd at first ignored them, but as time went on, it grew ugly. By al_recedent, the new King should be now before them. What, then, if this rumo_as true? Where was the little King?
Revolution, now, in the making. A flame ready to blaze. Hastily, on th_utskirts of the throng, a delegation formed to visit the Palace, and lear_he truth. Orderly citizens these, braving the terror of that forbidding an_uarded pile in the interests of the land they loved.
Drums were now beating steadily, filling the air with their throbbing, almos_rowning out the solemn tolling of the bell. Around them were rallying angr_roups. As the groups grew large, each drum led its followers toward th_overnment House, where, on the steps; the revolutionary party harangued th_rowd. Bonfires sprang up, built of no one knew what, in the public squares.
Red fire burned. The drums throbbed.
The city had not yet risen. It was large and slow to move. Slow, too, t_elieve in treason, or that it had no king. But it was a matter of moment_ow, not of hours.
The noise penetrated into the very wards of the hospital. Red fires bathe_ale faces on their pillows in a feverish glow. Nurses gathered at th_indows, their uniforms and faces alike scarlet in the glare, and whispere_ogether.
One such group gathered near the bedside of the student Haeckel, still in hi_ethargy. His body had gained strength, so that he was clothed at times, t_ander aimlessly about the ward. But he had remained dazed. Now and then th_urtain of the past lifted, but for a moment only. He had forgotten his name.
He spent long hours struggling to pierce the mist.
But mostly he lay, or sat, as now, beside his bed, a bandage still on hi_ead, clad in shirt and trousers, bare feet thrust into worn hospita_lippers. The red glare had not roused him, nor yet the beat of the drums. Bu_ word or two that one of the nurses spoke caught his ear and held him. H_ooked up, and slowly rose to his feet. Unsteadily he made his way to _indow, holding to the sill to steady himself.
Old Adelbert had been working his way impatiently. The temper of the mob wa_rowing ugly. It was suspicious, frightened, potentially dangerous.
The cry of "To the Palace!" greeted his ears he finally emerged breathles_rom the throng.
He stepped boldly to the old stone archway, and faced a line of soldier_here. "I would see the Chancellor!" he gasped, and saluted.
The captain of the guard stepped out. "What is it you want?" he demanded.
"The Chancellor," he lowered his voice. "I have news of the Crown Prince."
Magic words, indeed. Doors opened swiftly before them. But time was flying, too. In his confusion the old man had only one thought, to reach th_hancellor. It would have been better to have told his news at once. Th_limbing of stairs takes time when one is old and fatigued, and has but on_eg.
However, at last it way done. Past a room where sat Nikky Larisch, swordles_nd self-convicted of treason, past a great salon where a terrified Cour_aited, and waiting, listened to the cries outside, the beating of many drums, the sound of multitudinous feet, old Adelbert stumped to the door of the roo_here the Council sat debating and the Chancellor paced the floor.
Small ceremony tow. Led by soldiers, who retired and left him to enter alone, old Adelbert stumbled into the room. He was out of breath and dizzy; his hear_eat to suffocation. There was not air enough in all the world to breathe. H_lutched at the velvet hangings of the door, and swayed, but he saw th_hancellor.
"The Crown Prince," he said thickly, "is at the home of the Americans." H_tared about him. Strange that the room should suddenly be filled with a mist.
"But there be those—who wait—there—to capture him."
He caught desperately at the curtains, with their royal arms embroidered i_lue and gold. Shameful, in such company, to stagger so!
"Make—haste," he said, and slid stiffly to the ground. He lay without moving.
The Council roused then. Mettlich was the first to get to him. But it was to_ate.
Old Adelbert had followed the mist to the gates it concealed. More than that, sham traitor that he was, he had followed his King.