“You have had an anxious time, I am afraid,” went on the other. “But so have we all. You must bear no malice, Monsignor.”
The priest said nothing. He looked between his half-closed eyelids at the heavy, clean-shaven, clever face of the man who sat opposite him, the strong, capable and rather humorous mouth, his close-cut hair turning a little grey by the ears, watching for any sign of discomposure. But there was none at all.
The man glanced up, caught his eye, and smiled a little.
“Well, I am afraid you’re not altogether pleased with us. But you must bear in mind, Monsignor, that you’ve driven—” (he corrected his phrase)—“you drove us into a corner. I regret the deaths of the two envoys as much as you yourself. But we were forced to keep our word. Obviously your party did not believe us, or they would have communicated by other means. Well, we had to prove our sincerity.” (He paused). “And we shall have to prove it again to-night, it seems.”
Again there was silence.
“I think you’re foolish to take this line, Monsignor,” went on the other briskly—“this not speaking to me, I mean. I’m quite willing to tell you all I know, if you care to ask me. I’ve not come to bully you or to triumph over you. And after all, you know, we might easily have treated you as an envoy, too. To be quite frank, it was I who pleaded for you. . . . Oh! not out of any tenderness; we have got past that. You Christians have taught us that. But I thought that so long as we kept our word we need not go beyond it. And it’s proved that I’m right. . . . Aren’t you curious to know why?”
The priest looked at him again.
“Well, we are going to send you back after midnight. You will have to witness the last scene, I am afraid, so that you can give a true account of it—the Emperor’s death, I mean.”
He paused again, waiting for an answer. Then he stood up, at last, it seemed, pricked into impatience.
“Kindly come with me, Monsignor,” he said abruptly. “I have to take you before the Council.”
It was a large hall, resembling a concert-room, into which the priest came at last, an hour later, under the escort of James Hardy and a couple of police, and he had plenty of time to observe it, as he stood waiting by the little door through which he stepped on to the back of the platform.
This platform stood at the upper end of the hall, and was set with a long semicircle of chairs and desks, as if for judges, and these were occupied by perhaps thirty persons, dressed, he saw, in dull colours, all alike. The dresses seemed curiously familiar; he supposed he must have seen them in pictures. Then he remembered a long while ago Father Jervis telling him that the Socialists resented the modern developments in matters of costume.
The President’s desk and seat were raised a little above the others, but from behind the priest could see nothing of him but his black gown and his rather long iron-grey hair; he seemed to be answering in rapid German some question that one of his colleagues had just put to him.