Long Live the King by Mary Roberts Rinehart
Chapter XXXVIII. In the Road of the Good Children
Haeckel crept to a window and looked out. Bonfires were springing up in the open square in front of the Government House. Mixed with the red glare came leaping yellow flames. The wooden benches were piled together and fired, and by each such pyre stood a gesticulating, shouting red demon.
Guns were appearing now. Wagons loaded with them drove into the Square, to be surrounded by a howling mob. The percentage of sober citizens was growing - sober citizens no longer. For the little King had not been shown to them. Obviously he could not be shown to them. Therefore rumor was right, and the boy was gone.
Against the Palace, therefore, their rage was turned. The shouts for the little King turned to threats. The Archbishop had come out on the balcony accompanied by Father Gregory. The Archbishop had raised his hands, but had not obtained silence. Instead, to his horror and dismay, a few stones had been thrown.
He retired, breathing hard. But Father Gregory had remained, facing the crowd fearlessly, his arms not raised in benediction, but folded across his chest. Stones rattled about him, but he did not flinch, and at last he gained the ears of the crowd. His great voice, stern and fearless; held them.
"My friends," he said, "there is work to be done, and you lose time. We cannot show you the King, because he is not here. While you stand there shrieking, his enemies have their will of him. The little King has been stolen from the Palace."
He might have swayed them, even then. He tried to move them to a search of the city. But a pallid man, sweating with excitement, climbed on the shoulders of two companions, and faced the crowd.
"Aye, he is stolen," he cried. "But who stole him? Not the city. We are loyal. Ask the Palace where he is. Ask those who have allied themselves with Karnia. Ask Mettlich."
There was more, of course. The cries of "To the Palace!" increased. Those behind pushed forward, shoving the ones ahead toward the archway, where a line of soldiers with fixed bayonets stood waiting.
The Archduchess and Hilda with a handful of women, had fled to the roof, and from there saw the advance of the mob. Hedwig had haughtily refused to go.
It had seemed to Hedwig that life itself was over. She did not care very much. When the Archbishop had been driven back from the balcony, she foresaw the end. She knew of Nikky's treason now, knew it in all its bitterness, but not all its truth. And, because she had loved him, although she told herself her love was dead, she sought him out in the room where he sat and waited.
She was there when old Adelbert had brought his news and had fallen, before he could finish,
Nikky had risen; and looked at her, rather stonily. Then had followed such a scene as leaves scars, Hedwig blaming him and forgiving him, and then breaking down and begging him to flight. And Nikky, with the din of the Place in his ears, and forbidden to confront the mob, listening patiently and shaking his head. How little she knew him; after all, to think that he would even try to save himself. He had earned death. Let it come.
He was not very clear himself as to how it happened. He had been tricked. But that was no excuse. And in the midst of her appeal to him to save himself, he broke in to ask where Olga Loschek was.
Hedwig drew herself up. "I do not know," she said, rather coldly.
"But after all," Nikky muttered, thinking of the lady-in- waiting, "escape is cut off. The Palace is surrounded."
For a moment Hedwig thought she had won. "It is not cut off," she said. And spoke of the turret door, and whither it led. All at once he saw it all. He looked at her with eyes that dilated with excitement, and then to her anger, shot by her and to the room where the Council waited. He was just in time to hear old Adelbert's broken speech, and to see him reel and fall.
At the hospital, Haeckel, the student, stood by his window, and little by little the veil lifted. His slow blood stirred first. The beating of drums, the shrieks of the crowd, the fires, all played, their, part. Another patient joined him, and together they looked out.
"Bad work!" said the other man.
"Aye!" said Haeckel. Then, speaking very slowly, and with difficulty, "I do not understand."
"The King is dead." The man watched him. He had been of interest to the ward.
"Aye," observed, Haeckel, still uncomprehending. And then, "Dead - the King?"
"Dead. Hear the bell."
"Then -" But he could not at once formulate the thought in his mind. Speech came hard. He was still in a cloud.
"They say," said the other man, "that the Crown Prince is missing, that he has been stolen. The people are frenzied."
He went on, dilating on the rumors. Still Haeckel labored. The King! The Crown Prince! There was something that he was to do. It was just beyond him, but he could not remember. Then, by accident, the other man touched the hidden spring of his memory.
"There are some who think that Mettlich - "
"Mettlich!" That was the word. With it the curtain split, as it were, the cloud was gone. Haeckel put a hand to his head.
A few minutes later, a strange figure dashed out of the hospital. The night watchman had joined the mob, and was at that moment selecting a rifle from a cart. Around the cart were students, still in their Carnival finery, wearing the colors of his own corps. Haeckel, desperate of eye, pallid and gaunt, clad still in his hospital shirt and trousers; Haeckel climbed on to the wagon, and mounted to the seat, a strange, swaying figure, with a bandage on his head. In spite of that, there were some who knew him.
"Haeckel!" they cried. The word spread. The crowd of students pressed close.
"What would you do?" he cried to them. "You know me. You see me now. I have been done almost to death by those you would aid. Aye, arm yourselves, but not against your King. We have sworn to stand together. I call on you, men of my corps, to follow me. There are those who to-night will murder the little King and put King Mob on the throne. And they be those who have tortured roe. Look at me! This they have done to me." He tore the bandage off and showed his scarred head. "'Quick!" he cried. "I know where they hide, these spawn of hell. Who will follow me? To the King!"
"To the King!"
They took up the cry, a few at first, then all of them. More than his words, the gaunt and wounded figure of Haeckel in the cart fought for him. He reeled before them. Two leaped up and steadied him, finally, indeed, took him on their shoulders, and led the way. They made a wedge of men, and pushed through the mob.
"To the little King!" was the cry they raised, and ran, a flying wedge of white, fantastic figures. Those who were unarmed seized weapons from the crowd as they passed. Urged by Haeckel, they ran through the streets.
Haeckel knew. It was because he had known that they had done away with him. His mind, working now with almost unnatural activity, flew ahead to the house in the Road of the Good Children, and to what might be enacting there. His eyes burned. Now at last he would thwart them, unless -
Just before they turned into the street, a horseman had dashed out of it and flung himself out of the saddle. The door was bolted, but it opened to his ring, and Nikky faced the concierge, Nikky, with a drawn revolver in his hand, and a face deathly white.
He had had no time to fire, no time even to speak. The revolver flew out of his hand at one blow from the flail-like arms of the concierge. Behind him somewhere was coming, Nikky knew, a detachment of cavalry. But he had outdistanced them, riding frenziedly, had leaped hedges and ditches across the Park. He must hold this man until they came.
Struggling in the grasp of the concierge, he yet listened for them. From the first he knew it was a losing battle. He had lost before. But he fought fiercely, with the strength of a dozen. His frenzy was equaled by that of the other man, and his weight was less by a half. He went down finally and lay still, a battered, twisted figure.
The cavalry, in the mean time, had lost the way, was riding its foam-flecked horses along another street, and losing, time when every second counted.
But Black Humbert, breathing hard, had heard sounds in the street, and put up the chain. He stood at bay, a huge, shaken figure at the foot of the stone staircase. He was for flight now. But surely - outside at the door some one gave the secret knock of the tribunal, and followed it by the pass-word. He breathed again. Friends, of course, come for the ammunition. But, to be certain, he went to the window of his bureau, and looked out through the bars. Students!
"Coming!" he called. And kicked at Nikky's quiet figure as he passed it. Then he unbolted the door, dropped the chain, and opened the door.
Standing before him, backed by a great crowd of fantastic figures, was Haeckel.
They did not kill him at once. At the points of a dozen bayonets, intended for vastly different work, they forced him up the staircase, flight after flight. At first he cried pitifully that he knew nothing of the royal child, then he tried to barter what he knew for his life. They jeered at him, pricked him shamefully from behind with daggers.
At the top of the last flight he turnery and faced them. "Gentlemen, friends!" he implored. "I have done him no harm. It was never in my mind to do him an injury. I - "
"He is in the room where you kept me?" asked Haeckel, in a low voice.
"He is there, and safe."
Then Haeckel killed him. He struck him with a dagger, and his great body fell on the stairs. He was still moving and groaning, as they swarmed over him.
Haeckel faced the crowd. "There are others," he said. "I know them all. When we have finished here, we will go on."
They were fearful of frightening the little King, and only two went back, with the key that Haeckel had taken from the body of Black Humbert. They unlocked the door of the back room, to find His Majesty sitting on a chair, with a rather moist handkerchief in his hand. He was not at all frightened, however, and was weeping for his grandfather.
"Has the carriage come?" he demanded. "I am waiting for a carriage."
They assured him that a carriage was on the way, and were very much at a loss.
"I would like to go quickly," he said. "I am afraid my grandfather - Nikky!"
For there stood Nikky in the doorway, a staggering, white-lipped Nikky. He was not too weak to pick the child up, however, and carry him to the head of the stairs. They had moved the body of the concierge, by his order. So he stood there, the boy in his arms, and the students, only an hour before in revolt against him, cheered mightily.
They met the detachment of cavalry at the door, and thus, in state, rode back to the Palace where he was to rule, King Otto the Ninth. A very sad little King, for Nikky had answered his question honestly. A King who mopped his eyes with a very dirty handkerchief. A weary little King, too, with already a touch of indigestion!
Behind them, in the house on the Road of the Good Children, Haeckel, in an access of fury, ordered the body of the concierge flung from a window. It lay below, a twisted and shapeless thing, beside the pieces of old Adelbert's broken sword.