Long Live the King by Mary Roberts Rinehart
Chapter XXIX. Old Adelbert the Traitor
"Thus," said the concierge, frying onions over his stove; "thus have they always done. But you have been blind. Rather, you would not see."
Old Adelbert stirred uneasily. "So long as I accept my pension - "
"Why should you not accept your pension. A trifle in exchange for what you gave. For them, who now ill-use you, you have gone through life but half a man. Women smile behind their hands when you hobble by."
"I do not hold with women," said old Adelbert, flushing. "They take all and give nothing." The onions were done, and the concierge put them, frying-pan and all, on the table. "Come, eat while the food is hot. And give nothing," he repeated, returning to the attack. "You and I ride in no carriages with gilt wheels. We work, or, failing work, we starve. Their feet are on our necks. But one use they have for us, you and me, my friend - to tax us."
"The taxes are not heavy," quoth old Adelbert.
"There are some who find them so." The concierge heaped his guest's plate with onions. And old Adelbert, who detested onions, and was besides in no mood for food, must perforce sample them.
"I can cook," boasted his host. "The daughter of my sister cannot cook. She uses milk, always milk. Feeble dishes, I call them. Strong meat for strong men, comrade."
Old Adelbert played with his steel fork. "I was a good patriot," he observed nervously, "until they made me otherwise."
"I will make you a better. A patriot is one who is zealous for his country and its welfare. That means much. It means that when the established order is bad for a country, it must be changed. Not that you and I may benefit. God knows, we may not live to benefit. But that Livonia may free her neck from the foot of the oppressor, and raise her head among nations."
From which it may be seen that old Adelbert had at last joined the revolutionary party, an uneasy and unhappy recruit, it is true, but - a recruit. "If only some half-measure would suffice," he said, giving up all pretense of eating. "This talk of rousing the mob, of rioting and violence, I do not like them."
"Then has age turned the blood in your veins to water!" said the concierge contemptuously. "Half-measures! Since when has a half-measure been useful? Did half-measures win in your boasted battles? And what half-measures would you propose? "
Old Adelbert sat silent. Now and then, because his mouth was dry, he took a sip of beer from his tankard. The concierge ate, taking huge mouthfuls of onions and bread, and surveying his feeble-hearted recruit with appraising eyes. To win him would mean honor, for old Adelbert, decorated for many braveries, was a power among the veterans. Where he led, others would follow.
"Make no mistake," said Black Humbert cunningly. "We aim at no bloodshed. A peaceful revolution, if possible. The King, being dead, will suffer not even humiliation. Let the royal family scatter where it will. We have no designs on women. The Chancellor, however, must die."
"I make no plea for him," said old Adelbert bitterly. "I wrote to him also, when I lost my position, and received no reply. We passed through the same campaigns, as I reminded him, but he did nothing."
"As for the Crown Prince," observed the concierge, eyeing the old man over the edge of his tankard, "you know our plan for him. He will be cared for as my own child, until we get him beyond the boundaries. Then he will be safely delivered to those who know nothing of his birth. A private fund of the Republic will support and educate him."
Old Adelbert's hands twitched. "He is but a child," he said, "but already he knows his rank."
"It will be wise for him to forget it." His tone was ominous. Adelbert glanced up quickly, but the Terrorist had seen his error, and masked it with a grin. "Children forget easily," he said, "and by this secret knowledge of yours, old comrade, all can be peacefully done. Until you brought it to me, we were, I confess, fearful that force would be necessary. To admit the rabble to the Palace would be dangerous. Mobs go mad at such moments. But now it may be effected with all decency and order."
"And the plan?"
"I may tell you this." The concierge shoved his plate away and bent over the table. "We have set the day as that of the Carnival. On that day all the people are on the streets. Processions are forbidden, but the usual costuming with their corps colors as pompons is allowed. Here and there will be one of us clad in red, a devil, wearing the colors of His Satanic Majesty. Those will be of our forces, leaders and speech-makers. When we secure the Crown Prince, he will be put into costume until he can be concealed. They will seek, if there be time, the Prince Ferdinand William Otto. Who will suspect a child, wearing some fantastic garb of the Carnival?"
"But the King? "inquired old Adelbert in a shaking voice. "How can you set a day, when the King nay rally? I thought all hung on the King's death."
The concierge bent closer over the table. "Doctor Wiederman, the King's physician, is one of us," he whispered. "The King lives now only because of stimulants to the heart. His body is already dead. When the stimulants cease, he will die."
Old Adelbert covered his eyes. He had gone too far to retreat now. Driven by brooding and trouble, he had allied himself with the powers of darkness.
The stain, he felt, was already on his forehead. But before him, like a picture on a screen, came the scene by which he had lived for so many years, the war hospital, the King by his bed, young then and a very king in looks, pinning on the breast of his muslin shirt the decoration for bravery.
He sat silent while the concierge cleared the table, and put the dishes in a pan for his niece to wash. And throughout the evening he said little. At something before midnight he and his host were to set out on a grave matter, nothing less than to visit the Committee of Ten, and impart the old soldier's discovery. In the interval he sat waiting, and nursing his grievances to keep them warm.
Men came and went. From beneath the floor came, at intervals, a regular thudding which he had never heard before, and which he now learned was a press.
"These are days of publicity," explained the concierge. "Men are influenced much by the printed word. Already our bulletins flood the country. On the day of the Carnival the city will flame with them, printed in red. They will appear, as if by magic power, everywhere."
"A call to arms?"
"A call to liberty," evaded the concierge.
Not in months had he taken such pleasure in a recruit. He swaggered about the room, recounting in boastful tones his influence with the Committee of Ten.
"And with reason," he boasted, pausing before the old soldier. "I have served them well; here in this house is sufficient ammunition to fight a great battle. You, now, you know something of ammunition. You have lived here for a long time. Yet no portion of this house has been closed to you. Where, at a guess, is it concealed?"
"It is in this house?"
"So I tell you. Now, where?"
"In the cellar, perhaps."
"Come, I will show you." He led old Adelbert by the elbow to a window overlooking the yard. Just such an enclosure as each of the neighboring houses possessed, and surrounded by a high fence. Here was a rabbit hutch, built of old boards, and familiar enough to the veteran's eyes; and a dovecote, which loomed now but a deeper shadow among shadows.
"Carrier-pigeons," explained the concierge. "You have seen them often, but you suspected nothing, eh? They are my telegraph. Now, look again, comrade. What else?"
"Barrels," said old Adelbert, squinting. "The winter's refuse from the building. A - a most untidy spot."
His soldierly soul had revolted for months at the litter under his window. And somewhere, in the disorder, lay his broken sword. His sword broken, and he -
"Truly untidy," observed the concierge complacently. "A studied untidiness, and even then better than a room I shall show you in the cellar, filled to overflowing with boxes containing the winter's ashes. Know you," he went on, dropping his voice, "that these barrels and boxes are but - a third full of rubbish. Below that in cases is - what we speak of."
"But I thought - a peaceful revolution, a - "
"We prepare for contingencies. Peace if possible. If not, war. I am telling you much because, by your oath, you are now one of us, and bound to secrecy. But, beside that, I trust you. You are a man of your word."
"Yes," said old Adelbert, drawing himself up. "I am a man of my word. But you cannot fight with cartridges alone."
"We have rifles, also, in other places. Even I do not know where all of them are concealed." The concierge chuckled in his beard. "The Committee knows men well. It trusts none too much. There are other depots throughout the city, each containing supplies of one sort and another. On the day of the uprising each patriot will be told where to go for equipment. Not before."
Old Adelbert was undoubtedly impressed. He regarded the concierge with furtive eyes. He, Adelbert, had lived in the house with this man of parts for years, and had regarded him as but one of many.
Black Humbert, waiting for the hour to start and filling his tankard repeatedly, grew loquacious. He hinted of past matters in which he had proved his value to the cause. Old Adelbert gathered that, if he had not actually murdered the late Crown Prince and his wife, he had been closely concerned in it. His thin, old flesh crept with anxiety. It was a bad business, and he could not withdraw.
"We should have had the child, too," boasted the concierge, "and saved much bother. But he had been, unknown to us, sent to the country. A matter of milk, I believe."
"But you say you do not war on children!"
"Bah! A babe of a few months. Furthermore," said the concierge, "I have a nose for the police. I scent a spy, as a dog scents a bone. Who, think you, discovered Haeckel?"
"Haeckel!" Old Adelbert sat upright in his chair.
"Aye, Haeckel, Haeckel the jovial, the archconspirator, who himself assisted to erect the press you hear beneath your feet. Who but I? I suspected him. He was too fierce. He had no caution. He was what a peaceful citizen may fancy a revolutionist to be. I watched him. He was not brave. He was reckless because he had nothing to fear. And at last I caught him."
Old Adelbert was sitting forward on the edge of his chair; his jaw dropped. "And what then?" he gasped. "He was but a boy. Perhaps you misjudged him. Boys are reckless."
"I caught him," said the concierge. "I have said it. He knew much. He had names, places, even dates. For that matter; he confessed."
"Then he is dead?" quavered old Adelbert.
The concierge shrugged his shoulders. "Of course," he said briefly. "For a time he was kept here, in an upper room. He could have saved himself, if he would. We could have used him. But he turned sulky, refused speech, did not eat. When he was taken away," he added with unction, "he was so weak that he could not walk." He rose and consulted a great silver watch. "We can go now," he said. "The Committee likes promptness."
They left together, the one striding out with long steps that were surprisingly light for his size, the other, hanging back a trifle, as one who walks because he must. Old Adelbert, who had loved his King better than his country, was a lagging "patriot" that night. His breath came short and labored. His throat was dry. As they passed the Opera, however, he threw his head up. The performance was over, but the great house was still lighted, and in the foyer, strutting about, was his successor. Old Adelbert quickened his steps.
At the edge of the Place, near the statue of the Queen, they took a car, and so reached the borders of the city. After that they walked far. The scent of the earth, fresh-turned by the plough, was in their nostrils. Cattle, turned out after the long winter, grazed or lay in the fields. Through the ooze of the road the two plodded; old Adelbert struggling through with difficulty, the concierge exhorting him impatiently to haste.
At last the leader paused, and surveyed his surroundings: "Here I must cover your eyes, comrade," he said. "It is a formality all must comply with."
Old Adelbert drew back. "I do not like your rule. I am not as other men. I must see where I go."
"I shall lead you carefully. And, if you fear, I can carry you." He chuckled at the thought. But old Adelbert knew well that he could do it, knew that he was as a child to those mighty arms. He submitted to the bandage, however, with an ill grace that caused the concierge to smile.
"It hurts your dignity, eh, old rooster!" he said jovially. "Others, of greater dignity, have felt the same. But all submit in the end."
He piloted the veteran among the graves with the ease of familiarity. Only once he spoke. "Know you where you are?"
"In a field," said Adelbert, "recently ploughed."
"Aye, in a field, right enough. But one which sows corruption, and raises nothing, until perhaps great St. Gabriel calls in his crop."
Then, realizing the meaning of the mounds over which he trod, old Adelbert crossed himself.
"Only a handful know of this meeting-place," boasted the concierge. "I, and a few others. Only we may meet with the Committee face to face."
"You must have great influence," observed old Adelbert timidly.
"I control the guilds. He who to-day can sway labor to his will is powerful, very powerful comrade. Labor is the great beast which tires of carrying burdens, and is but now learning its strength."
"Aye," said old Adelbert. "Had I been wise, I would have joined a guild. Then I might have kept my place at the Opera. As it is, I stood alone, and they put me out."
"You do not stand alone now. Stand by us, and we will support you. The Republic will not forget its friends."
Thus heartened, old Adelbert brightened up somewhat. Why should he, an old soldier, sweat at the thought of blood? Great changes required heroic measures. It was because he was old that he feared change. He stumped through the passageway without urging, and stood erect and with shoulders squared while the bandage was removed.
He was rather longer than Olga Loschek had been in comprehending his surroundings. His old eyes at first saw little but the table and its candles in their gruesome holders. But when he saw the Committee his heart failed. Here, embodied before him, was everything he had loathed during all his upright and loyal years anarchy, murder, treason. His face worked. The cords in his neck stood out like strings drawn to the breaking-point.
The concierge was speaking. For all his boasting, he was ill at ease. His voice had lost its bravado, and had taken on a fawning note.
"This is the man of whom word was sent to the Committee," he said. "I ventured to ask that he be allowed to come here, because he brings information of value,"
"Step forward, comrade," said the leader. "What is your name and occupation?"
"Adelbert, Excellency. As to occupation, for years I was connected with the Opera. Twenty years, Excellency. Then I grew old, and another - " His voice broke. What with excitement and terror, he was close to tears. "Now I am reduced to selling tickets for an American contrivance, a foolish thing, but I earn my bread by it."
He paused, but the silence continued unbroken. The battery of eyes behind the masks was turned squarely on him.
Old Adelbert fidgeted. "Before that, in years gone by, I was in the army," he said, feeling that more was expected of him, and being at a loss. "I fought hard, and once, when I suffered the loss you perceive, the King himself came to my bed, and decorated me. Until lately, I have been loyal. Now, I am - here." His face worked.
"What is the information that brings you here?"
Suddenly old Adelbert wept, terrible tears that forced their way from his faded eyes, and ran down his cheeks. "I cannot, Excellencies!" he cried. "I find I cannot."
He collapsed into the chair, and throwing his arms across the table bowed his head on them. His shoulders heaved under his old uniform. The Committee stirred, and the concierge caught him brutally by the wrist.
"Up with you!" he said, from clenched teeth. "What stupidity is this? Would you play with death?"
But old Adelbert was beyond fear. He shook his head. "I cannot," he muttered, his face hidden.
Then the concierge stood erect and folded his arms across his chest. "He is terrified, that is all," he said. "If the Committee wishes, I can tell them of this matter. Later, he can be interrogated."
The leader nodded.
"By chance," said the concierge, "this - this brave veteran" - he glanced contemptuously at the huddled figure in the chair has come across an old passage, the one which rumor has said lay under the city wall, and for which we have at different times instituted search."
He paused, to give his words weight. That they were of supreme interest could be told by the craning forward of the Committee.
"The entrance is concealed at the base of the old Gate of the Moon. Our friend here followed it, and reports it in good condition. For a mile or thereabouts it follows the line of the destroyed wall. Then it turns and goes to the Palace itself."
"Into the Palace?"
"By a flight of stairs, inside the wall, to a door in the roof. This door, which was locked, he opened, having carried keys with him. The door he describes as in the tower. As it was night, he could not see clearly, but the roof at that point is flat."
"Stand up, Adelbert," said the leader sharply. "This that our comrade tells is true?"
"It is true, Excellency."
"Shown a diagram of the Palace, could you locate this door?"
Old Adelbert stared around him hopelessly. It was done now. Nothing that he could say or refuse to say would change that. He nodded.
When, soon after, a chart of the Palace was placed on a table, he indicated the location of the door with a trembling forefinger. "It is there," he said thickly. "And may God forgive me for the thing I have done!"