THE COUNCIL OF THE OLIGARCHY
Precisely as Rudolph had forecast, things came to pass. I arrived at the palace of the Prince at half past six; at half past seven, my ordinary suit was covered with a braided livery, and I accompanied Rudolph to the council-chamber. We placed the table, chairs, pens, ink, paper, etc., in order. Watching our opportunity, we drew aside a heavy box in which grew a noble specimen of the cactus grandiflorus in full bloom, the gorgeous flowers just opening with the sunset, and filling the chamber with their delicious perfume. I crawled through the opening; took off my liveried suit; handed it back to Rudolph; he pushed the box into its place again; I inserted the hooks in their staples, and the barricade was complete. With many whispered injunctions and directions he left me. I heard him go out and lock the door—not the door by which we had entered—and all was silence.
There was room, by doubling up my limbs, Turk-fashion, to sit down in the inclosure. I waited. I thought of Estella. Rudolph had assured me that she had not been disturbed. They were waiting for hunger to compel her to eat the drugged food. Then I wondered whether we would escape in safety. Then my thoughts dwelt on the words she had spoken of me, and I remembered the pleased look upon her face when we met in Rudolph’s room, and my visions became very pleasant. Even the dead silence and oppressive solitude of the two great rooms could not still the rapid beatings of my heart. I forgot my mission and thought only of Estella and the future.
I was recalled to earth and its duties by the unlocking of the farther door. I heard Rudolph say, as if in answer to a question:
“Yes, my lord, I have personally examined the rooms and made sure that there are no spies concealed anywhere.”
“Let me see,” said the Prince; “lift up the tapestry.”
I could hear them moving about the council-chamber, apparently going around the walls. Then I heard them advancing into the conservatory. I shrank down still lower; they moved here and there among the flowers, and even paused for a few moments before the mass of flowering cacti.
“That flagelliformis,” said the Prince, “looks sickly. The soil is perhaps too rich. Tell the gardener to change the earth about it.”
“I shall do so, my lord,” said Rudolph; and to my great relief they moved off. In a few minutes I heard them in the council-chamber. With great caution I rose slowly. A screen of flowers had been cunningly placed by Rudolph between the cacti and that apartment. At last, half-stooping, I found an aperture in the rich mass of blossoms. The Prince was talking to Rudolph. I had a good view of his person. He was dressed in an evening suit. He was a large man, somewhat corpulent; or, as Rudolph had said, bloated. He had a Hebraic