Chapter XXII. The Conspiracy
 

The next day Wallenstein again entered Malcolm's workroom and said abruptly to him: "What deeds of bravery have you performed?"

Malcolm looked astonished.

"In an idle moment," the duke said, "having an interest in nativities and seeing that you were born between two years, I asked my astrologer to work out the calculations. He tells me that it was fated that you should perform deeds of notable bravery while still young. It seemed the horoscope of a soldier rather than of a craftsman, and so I told the sage; but he will have it that he has made no mistake."

Malcolm hesitated for a moment; the blind faith which the otherwise intelligent and capable general placed in the science of astrology was well known to the world. Should he deny that he had accomplished any feats, the duke, believing implicitly the statement which his astrologer had made him, would suspect that he was not what he seemed; he therefore replied modestly, "I have done no deeds worthy relating to your excellency, but I once swam across a swollen river to direct some travellers who would otherwise have perished, and my neighbours were good enough to say that none in those parts save myself would have attempted such a feat."

"Ah!" the duke exclaimed in a tone of satisfaction, "as usual the stars have spoken correctly. Doubtless as great courage is required to swim a river in flood as to charge into the ranks of the enemy."

So saying Wallenstein left the room, filled with a desire to attach to himself the young man whom his adviser had assured him was in some way connected with his destiny. Wallenstein a day or two later offered Malcolm to take him into his permanent service, saying that he was frequently plagued by the stoppages of his clocks, and desired to have a craftsman capable of attending to them on his establishment. He even told the young man that he might expect promotion altogether beyond his present station.

Malcolm could not refuse so flattering an offer, and was at once installed as a member of Wallenstein's household, declining however the use of the apartment which the steward offered him, saying that he had a sick brother lodging with him in the town. Mingling with the soldiers in the evenings Malcolm learned that there were rumours that negotiations for peace were going on with Saxony and Sweden. This was indeed the case, but Wallenstein was negotiating on his own behalf, and not on that of the emperor. So far but little had come of these negotiations, for Oxenstiern had the strongest doubts of Wallenstein's sincerity, and believed that he was only trying to gain time and delay operations by pretended proposals for peace. He could not believe that the great Imperialist general, the right hand of the emperor, had any real intention of turning against his master. Towards the end of January there was some excitement in Pilsen owing to the arrival there of all the generals of the Imperialist army save only Gallas, Coloredo, and Altringer.

Malcolm was sure that such a gathering could only have been summoned by Wallenstein upon some matter of the most vital importance, and he determined at all hazards to learn what was taking place, in order that he might enlighten Oxenstiern as to the real sentiments of the duke. Learning that the principal chamber in the castle had been cleared, and that a meeting of the officers would take place there in the evening, he told Thekla when he went home to his meal at midday that she must not be surprised if he did not return until a late hour. He continued his work until nearly six o'clock, the time at which the meeting was to begin, and then extinguishing his light, he made his way through the passages of the castle until he reached the council chamber, meeting with no interruption from the domestics, who were by this time familiar with his person, and who regarded him as one rising in favour with their master. He waited in the vicinity of the chamber until he saw an opportunity for entering unobserved, then he stole into the room and secreted himself behind the arras beneath a table standing against the wall, and where, being in shadow, the bulge in the hanging would not attract attention.

In a few minutes he heard heavy steps with the clanking of swords and jingling of spurs, and knew that the council was beginning to assemble. The hum of conversation rose louder and louder for a quarter of an hour; then he heard the door of the apartment closed, and knew that the council was about to commence. The buzz of conversation ceased, and then a voice, which was that of Field Marshal Illo, one of the three men in Wallenstein's confidence, rose in the silence. He began by laying before the army the orders which the emperor had sent for its dispersal to various parts of the country, and by the turn he gave to these he found it easy to excite the indignation of the assembly.

He then expatiated with much eloquence upon the merits of the army and its generals, and upon the ingratitude with which the emperor had treated them after their noble efforts in his behalf. The court, he said, was governed by Spanish influence. The ministry were in the pay of Spain. Wallenstein alone had hitherto opposed this tyranny, and had thus drawn upon himself the deadly enmity of the Spaniards. To remove him from the command, or to make away with him entirely, had, he asserted, been long the end of their desires, and until they could succeed they endeavoured to abridge his power in the field. The supreme command was to be placed in the hands of the King of Hungary solely to promote the Spanish power in Germany, as this prince was merely the passive instrument of Spain.

It was only with the view of weakening the army that six thousand troops were ordered to be detached from it, and solely to harass it by a winter campaign that they were now called upon at this inhospitable season to undertake the recovery of Ratisbon. The Jesuits and the ministry enriched themselves with the treasure wrung from the provinces, and squandered the money intended for the pay of the troops.

The general, then, abandoned by the court, was forced to acknowledge his inability to keep his engagements to the army. For all the services which for two-and-twenty years he had rendered to the house of Austria, in return for all the difficulties with which he had struggled, for all the treasures of his own which he had expended in the Imperial service, a second disgraceful dismissal awaited him. But he was resolved the matter should not come to this; he was determined voluntarily to resign the command before it should be wrested from his hands, "and this," continued the speaker, "is what he has summoned you here to make known to you, and what he has commissioned me to inform you."

It was now for them to say whether they would permit him to leave them; it was for each man present to consider who was to repay him the sums he had expended in the emperor's service; how he was ever to reap the rewards for his bravery and devotion, when the chief who alone was cognizant of their efforts, who was their sole advocate and champion, was removed from them.

When the speaker concluded a loud cry broke from all the officers that they would not permit Wallenstein to be taken from them. Then a babel of talk arose, and after much discussion four of the officers were appointed as a deputation to wait upon the duke to assure him of the devotion of the army, and to beg him not to withdraw himself from them. The four officers intrusted with the commission left the room and repaired to the private chamber of the general. They returned in a short time, saying that the duke refused to yield.

Another deputation was sent to pray him in even stronger terms to remain with them. These returned with the news that Wallenstein had reluctantly yielded to their request; but upon the condition that each of them should give a written promise to truly and firmly adhere to him, neither to separate or to allow himself to be separated from him, and to shed his last drop of blood in his defence. Whoever should break this covenant, so long as Wallenstein should employ the army in the emperor's service, was to be regarded as a perfidious traitor and to be treated by the rest as a common enemy.

As these last words appeared to indicate clearly that Wallenstein had no thought of assuming a position hostile to the emperor, or of defying his authority, save in the point of refusing to be separated from his army, all present agreed with acclamations to sign the documents required.

"Then, gentlemen," Marshal Illo said, "I will have the document for your signatures at once drawn up. A banquet has been prepared in the next room, of which I invite you now all to partake, and at its conclusion the document shall be ready."

Malcolm from his hiding place heard the general movement as the officers left the apartment, and looking cautiously out from beneath the arras, saw that the chamber was entirely empty. He determined, however, to remain and to hear the conclusion of the conference. He accordingly remained quiet for upwards of an hour. During this time the attendants had entered and extinguished the lights, as the guests would not return to the council chamber.

He now left his hiding place and made his way to the door which separated him from the banqueting hall. Listening intently at the keyhole, he heard the clinking of glasses and the sound of voices loudly raised, and he guessed that the revelry was at its height. More and more noisy did it become, for Marshal Illo was plying his guests with wine in order that they might sign without examination the document which he had prepared for their signatures. Feeling confident that none would hear him in the state at which they had now arrived, Malcolm cautiously opened the door an inch or two, and was able to hear and see all that passed.

It was another hour before Marshal Illo produced the document and passed it round for signature. Many of those to whom it was handed signed it at once without reading the engagement; but one more sober than the rest insisted on reading it through, and at once rising to his feet, announced to the others that the important words "as long as Wallenstein shall employ the army for the emperor's service," which had been inserted in the first draft agreed to by Wallenstein and the deputation, had been omitted.

A scene of noisy confusion ensued. Several of the officers declared that they would not sign the document as it stood. General Piccolomini, who had only attended the meeting in order that he might inform the emperor, to whom he was devoted, of what took place there, had drunk so much wine that he forgot the part he was playing, and rose to his feet and with drunken gravity proposed the health of the emperor.

Louder and louder grew the din of tongues until Count Terzky, who was alone with Illo and Colonel Kinsky in Wallenstein's confidence, arose, and in a thundering voice declared that all were perjured villains who should recede from their engagement, and would, according to their agreements be treated as enemies by the rest. His menaces and the evident danger which any who might now draw back would run, overcame the scruples of the recalcitrants, and all signed the paper. This done the meeting broke up, and Malcolm, stealing away from his post of observation, made his way back to his lodgings.

He slept little that night. What he had seen convinced him that Wallenstein was really in earnest in the propositions which he had made to Oxenstiern and the Elector of Saxony, and that he meditated an open rebellion against the emperor. It was of extreme importance that Oxenstiern should be made acquainted with these facts; but it would be next to impossible to escape from Pilsen, burdened as he was with Thekla, and to cross the country which intervened between the two armies and which was constantly traversed by cavalry parties and scouts of both sides.

After much deliberation, therefore, he determined upon the bold course of frankly informing Wallenstein who he was and what he had heard, and to beg of him to furnish him with an escort to pass through the lines in order that he might make his way with all speed to Oxenstiern in order to assure him of the good faith of the duke and of the importance of his frankly and speedily accepting his proposals. It was possible, of course, that he might fall a victim to Wallenstein's first anger when he found out that he had been duped, and the plot in which he was engaged discovered; but he resolved to run the risk, believing that the duke would see the advantage to be gained by complying with his proposal.

It was necessary, however, to prepare Thekla for the worst.

"Thekla," he said in the morning, "an end has come to our stay here. Circumstances have occurred which will either enable us to continue our journey at once and in safety or which may place me in a prison."

Thekla gave a cry of surprise and terror. "I do not think, my dear girl," Malcolm went on, "that there is much fear of the second alternative, but we must be prepared for it. You must obey my instructions implicitly. Should I not return by nightfall you will know that for a time at least I have been detained. You will tell the woman of the house, who is aware that I am employed by Wallenstein, that I have been sent by him to examine and set in order the clocks in his palace in Vienna in readiness for his return there, but that as you were too unwell to travel I have bade you remain here until I return to fetch you.

"You have an ample supply of money even without the purse of gold which the duke presented to me yesterday. You must remain here quietly until the spring, when the tide of war is sure to roll away to some other quarter, and I trust that, long ere that, even should I be detained, I shall be free to come to you again; but if not, do you then despatch this letter which I have written for you to Jans Boerhoff. In this I tell him where you are, in order that, if your mother comes to him asking for you, or your parents are able to write to him to inquire for you, he may inform them of your hiding place. I have also written you a letter to the commander of any Swedish force which may enter this town, telling him who you are, and praying him to forward you under an escort to Nuremberg."

"But what shall I do without you?" Thekla sobbed.

"I trust, my dear, that you will not have to do without me, and feel convinced that tomorrow we shall be upon our way to the Swedish outposts. I only give you instructions in case of the worst. It troubles me terribly that I am forced to do anything which may possibly deprive you of my protection, but my duty to the country I serve compels me to take this step, which is one of supreme importance to our cause."

It was long before Thekla was pacified, and Malcolm himself was deeply troubled at the thought that the girl might be left alone and unprotected in a strange place. Still there appeared every probability that she would be able to remain there in safety until an opportunity should occur for her to make her way to Nuremberg. It was with a heavy heart, caused far more by the thought of Thekla's position than of danger to himself, that he took his way to the castle; but he felt that his duty was imperative, and was at heart convinced that Wallenstein would eagerly embrace his offer.

It was not until midday that he was able to see the duke. Wallenstein had been greatly angered as well as alarmed at the resistance which his scheme had met with on the previous evening. He had believed that his favours and liberality had so thoroughly attached his generals to his person that they would have followed him willingly and without hesitation, even in a war against the emperor, and the discovery that, although willing to support him against deprivation from his command, they shrunk alarmed at the idea of disloyalty to the emperor, showed that his position was dangerous in the extreme.

He found that the signatures to the document had for the most part been scrawled so illegibly that the writers would be able to repudiate them if necessary, and that deceit was evidently intended. In the morning he called together the whole of the generals, and personally received them. After pouring out the bitterest reproaches and abuse against the court, he reminded them of their opposition to the proposition set before them on the previous evening, and declared that this circumstance had induced him to retract his own promise, and that he should at once resign his command.

The generals, in confusion and dismay, withdrew to the antechamber, and after a short consultation returned to offer their apologies for their conduct on the previous evening and to offer to sign anew the engagement which bound them to him. This was done, and it now remained only for Wallenstein to obtain the adhesion of Gallas, Altringer, and Coloredo, which, as they held important separate commands, was necessary for the success of his plan. Messengers were accordingly sent out at once to request them to come instantly to Pilsen.

After this business was despatched and Wallenstein was disengaged he was informed that Malcolm desired earnestly to speak to him on particular business. Greatly surprised at the request, he ordered that he should be shown in to him.

"Your excellency," Malcolm began when they were alone, "what I am about to say may anger you, but as I trust that much advantage may arise from my communication, I implore you to restrain your anger until you hear me to the end, after which it will be for you to do with me as you will."

Still more surprised at this commencement, Wallenstein signed to him to continue.

"I am, sir," Malcolm went on, "no clockmaker, although, indeed, having worked for some time in the shop of Master Jans Boerhoff at the time of the siege of Nuremberg, I am able to set clocks and watches in repair, as I have done to those which have been placed in my hands here. In reality, sir, I am a Scottish officer, a captain in the service of Sweden."

Wallenstein gave a short exclamation of angry surprise. "You must not think, sir, that I have come hither in disguise to be a spy upon the movements of your army. I came here unwillingly, being captured by your troops, and forced to accompany them.

"I left the Swedish camp on a private mission, having received there a missive from the Countess of Mansfeld, who, with her husband, was a kind friend of mine, telling me that they were prisoners of the emperor at Prague, and begging me to come to their assistance. Bethinking me of the occupation which had amused my leisure hours during the weary months when we were shut up by you in Nuremberg, I obtained leave of absence, attired myself as a craftsman, and made my way to Prague. There I found the count confined to his couch by a wound and unable to move. The countess had no thought of quitting him. Her anxiety was wholly for her daughter, a girl of fifteen, whom the emperor purposed to shut up in a convent and force to change her religion, and then to bestow her hand upon one of his favourites, with her father's confiscated estates as her dowry.

"I succeeded in effecting her escape, disguised as a boy; I myself travelling in the disguise of a peasant with a wagon. We were making our way towards the Swedish lines when we came across your army, which had, unknown to me, suddenly moved hither. I and my cart were requisitioned for the service of the army. On the night of my arrival here I resumed my disguise as a craftsman, left my wagon, and with my young companion took up my lodging here, intending to remain quietly working at the craft I assumed until an opportunity offered for continuing our journey. Accident obtained me employment here, and as rumour said that overtures for peace were passing between yourself and the Swedish chancellor, I may frankly say that I determined to use the position in which I accidentally found myself for the benefit of the country I served, by ascertaining, if I could, how far your excellency was in earnest as to the offers you were making. In pursuance of that plan I yesterday concealed myself and overheard all that passed in the council chamber with the officers, and at the banquet subsequently."

Wallenstein leapt to his feet with an angry exclamation.

"Your excellency will please to remember," Malcolm went on quietly, "that I could have kept all this to myself and used it to the benefit or detriment of your excellency, but it seemed to me that I should benefit at once your designs and the cause I serve by frankly acquainting you with what I have discovered. It would be a work of time for me to make my way with my companion through the lines of your army and to gain those of the Swedes. I might be slain in so doing and the important information I have acquired lost.

"It is of all things important to you that the Swedish chancellor, whose nature is cautious and suspicious, should be thoroughly convinced that it is your intention to make common cause with him and to join him heart and soul in forcing the emperor to accept the conditions which you and he united may impose upon him. This the information I have acquired will assuredly suffice to do, and he will, without doubt, at once set his army in motion to act in concert with yours."

Wallenstein paced the room for a minute or two in silence.

"The stars truly said that you are a brave man and that your destiny is connected with mine," he said at length, "for assuredly none but a brave man would venture to tell me that he had spied into my councils. I see, however, that what you say is reasonable and cogent, and that the news you have to tell may well induce Oxenstiern to lay aside the doubts which have so long kept us asunder and at once to embrace my offer. What, then, do you propose?"

"I would ask, sir," Malcolm replied, "that you would at once order a squadron of horse to escort me and my companion through the debatable land between your army and that of the Swedes, with orders for us to pass freely on as soon as we are beyond your outposts and in the neighbourhood of those of the Swedes."

"It shall be done," Wallenstein said. "In half an hour a squadron of horse shall be drawn up in the courtyard here, and a horse and pillion in readiness for yourself and the maiden. In the meantime I will myself prepare a letter for you to present to the Swedish chancellor with fresh proposals for common action."