Most of them have listened respectfully; a few have tried to answer me; some have mocked me. But it is as if one came where grouped convicts stood, long imprisoned, who heard—with knives in their hands—the thunderous blows of their friends as they battered down the doors of their prison-house, and he should beg them not to go forth, lest they should do harm to society! They will out, though the heavens and the earth came together! One might as well whisper to Niagara to cease falling, or counsel the resistless cyclone, in its gyrating and terrible advance, to have a care of the rose-bushes.
THE POISONED KNIFE
When we returned home, on Sunday evening, Max found the receptacle in the wall which communicated with the pneumatic-tube system standing open. In it he found a long communication in cipher. He read a few lines with a startled look and then said:
“Here is important news, Gabriel. It is written in one of the ciphers of the Brotherhood, which I will translate to you. The number is that of Rudolph—the number it is addressed to is my own. We know each other in the Brotherhood, not by our names, but by the numbers given us when we became members. Listen:
“From number 28,263 M 2, to No. 160,053 P 4. Dated this 7:9, from the house of the condemned, No. 826 B.”
“That,” said Maximilian, “means the Prince Cabano.” He continued to read:
“Startling events have occurred since I saw you. The former favorite mistress of 826 B, who was displaced by Frederika, is a French girl, Celestine d’Aublay. She resented her downfall bitterly, and she hates Frederika with the characteristic vehemence of her race. She learned from the talk of the servants that a new victim—Estella—had been brought into the house, a girl of great beauty; and that Frederika was trying to prevent 826 B from seeing her. A sudden thought took possession of her mind; she would overthrow Frederika just as she herself had been overthrown. Yesterday, Saturday afternoon, she watched for 826 B in the hallways and chambers. The snuffling old wretch has a fashion of prying around in all parts of the house, under the fear that he is being robbed by the servants; and it was not long until Celestine encountered him. She threw herself in his way.
“‘Well, little one,’ he said, chucking her under the chin, ’how have you been? I have not seen your pretty face for a long time.’
“‘Indeed,’ said she, ’you care very little now for my pretty face, or that of any one else, since you have your new toy, Estella.’
“‘Estella!’ he repeated, ‘who is Estella?’
“‘Come, come,’ she said laughing; ’that will not do! Master Rudolph brings into the house a young girl of ravishing beauty, and weeks afterwards you ask me who she is! I am not to be deceived that way. I know you too well.’
“‘But really,’ he replied, ’I have not seen her. This is the first I have ever heard of her. Who is she?’