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Chapter 37 LONG LIVE THE KING!

  • 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."
  • "What 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.