The next morning I found Maximilian in conference with a stranger; a heavily-built, large-jawed, uncommunicative man. As I was about to withdraw my friend insisted that I should sit down.
"We have been making the necessary arrangements for next Monday night," he said. "The probabilities are great that we may be followed when we leave the house, and traced. It will not do to go, as Rudolph suggested, to the residence of any friend, and pass through it to another carriage. The Oligarchy would visit a terrible vengeance on the head of the man who so helped us to escape. I have instructed this gentleman to secure us, through an agent, three empty houses in different parts of the city, and he has done so; they stand in the center of blocks, and have rear exits, opening upon other streets or alleys, at right angles with the streets on which the houses stand. Then in these back streets he is to have covered carriages with the fleetest horses he can obtain. Our pursuers, thinking we are safely housed, may return to report our whereabouts to their masters. Estella being missed the next day, the police will visit the house, but they will find no one there to punish; nothing but curtains over the windows."
"But," said I, "will they not follow the carriage that brought us there, and thus identify its owner and driver, and force them to tell who employed them?"
"Of course; I have thought of that, and provided for it. There are members of the Brotherhood who have been brought from other cities in disguise, and three of these will
have another carriage, which, leaving the Prince's grounds soon after we do, will pursue our pursuers. They will be well armed and equipped with hand-grenades of dynamite. If they perceive that the spies cannot be shaken off, or that they propose to follow any of our carriages to their stables, it will be their duty to swiftly overtake the pursuers, and, as they pass them, fling the explosives under the horses' feet, disabling or killing them. It will take the police some time to obtain other horses, and before they can do so, all traces of us will be lost. If necessary, our friends will not hesitate to blow up the spies as well as the horses."
"But," I suggested, "will they not identify the man who rented the houses?"
"Why," said he, "my dear Gabriel, you would make a conspirator yourself. We will have to get you into the Brotherhood. We are too old to be caught that way. The man who rented the houses has been brought here from a city hundreds of miles distant; he was thoroughly disguised. As soon as he engaged the buildings, and paid one month's rent in advance for each, he left the city; and before to-morrow night he will be home again, and without his disguise; and he could never be suspected or identified as the same man. And," he added, "I do not propose that you shall go into that lion's den unsupported. We will have twenty of the Brotherhood, under Rudolph's management, scattered through the household, as servants; and three hundred more will be armed to the teeth and near at hand in the neighborhood; and if it becomes necessary they will storm the house and burn it over the villians' heads, rather than that you or Estella shall come to harm."
I pressed his hand warmly, and thanked him for his care of me, and of one so dear to me.
He laughed. "That is all right," he said; "good and unselfish men are so scarce in this world that one cannot do too
much for them. We must be careful lest, like the dodo and the great auk, the breed becomes extinct."
"But," said I, "may not the Oligarchy find you out, even here?"
"No," he replied, "my identity is lost. Here I live, in my real appearance, under a false name. But I have a house elsewhere, in which I dwell disguised, but under my real name, and with an unreal character. Here I am a serious, plotting conspirator; there I am a dissipated, reckless, foolish spendthrift, of whom no man need be afraid. It chanced that after certain events had occurred, of which I may tell you some day, I did not return home for several years; and then I came for revenge, with ample preparations for my own safety. I resumed my old place in society with a new appearance and a new character. That personage is constantly watched by spies; but he spends his time in drunkenness and deeds of folly; and his enemies laugh and say, 'He will never trouble us; he will be dead soon.' And so, with the real name and the unreal appearance and character in one place, and a false name, but the real appearance and character, in another, I lead a dual life and thwart the cunning of my enemies, and prepare for the day of my vengeance."
His eyes glowed with a baleful light as he spoke, and I could see that some great injustice, "like eager droppings into milk," had soured an otherwise loving and affectionate nature. I put my hand on his and said:
"My dear Max, your enemies are my enemies and your cause my cause, from henceforth forever."
His face beamed with delight, as he replied:
"I may some day, my dear Gabriel, hold you to that pledge."
"Agreed," I responded; "at all times I am ready."
He gave his agent a roll of money, and with mutual courtesies they separated.