“Because,” said the wily cripple, “I have a witness here who is about to reveal to you everything you said and did in that council-chamber last night, even to the minutest detail. If you had told your story to many, or to untrustworthy persons, there might be a possibility that this witness had gleaned the facts from others; and that he had not been present, as he claims; and therefore that you could not depend upon what he says as to other matters of importance. Do you recognize the justice of my reasoning?”
“Certainly,” said the general. “If you produce here a man who can tell me just where I was last night, what I said, and what was said to me, I shall believe that he was certainly present; for I well know he did not get it from me or my friends; and I know, equally well, that none of those with whom I had communication would tell what took place to you or any friend of yours.”
“Be kind enough to stand up,” said the cripple to me. I did so.
“Did you ever see that man before?” he asked the general.
The general looked at me intently.
“Never,” he replied.
“Have you ever seen this man before?” he asked me.
“Yes,” I replied.
“When and where?”
“Last night; at the palace of Prince Cabano—in his council-chamber.”
“Proceed, and tell the whole story.”
I did so. The general listened closely, never relaxing his scrutiny of my face. When I had finished my account of the interview, the cripple asked the general whether it was a faithful narration of what had taken place. He said it was—wonderfully accurate in every particular.
“You believe him, then, to be a truthful witness,” asked the cripple, “and that he was present at your interview, with the Council of the Plutocracy?”
’I do,” said General Quincy.
“Now proceed,” he said to me, “to tell what took place after this gentleman left the room.”
I did so. The face of the general darkened into a scowl as I proceeded, and he flushed with rage when I had concluded my story.
“Do you desire to ask the witness any questions?” said the cripple.
“None at all,” he replied.
He stood for several minutes lost in deep thought. I felt that the destiny of the world hung tremblingly in the balance. At last he spoke, in a low voice.
“Who represents your organization?” he asked.
“The Executive Committee,” replied the president.
“Who are they?” he inquired.
“Myself,—the vice-president”—pointing to the cripple—“and yonder gentleman”—designating the cowled and masked figure of Maximilian, who stood near me.
“Could I have a private conference with you?” he asked.
“Yes,” replied the president, somewhat eagerly; “come this way.”
All four moved to a side door, which seemed to lead into another subterranean chamber;—the cripple carried a torch.