DIRECTLY the sound of firing came, Wall hastened towards the arsenal. Deeming the affair some mere riot which a few words would quiet, he responded to the flag of truce waved from the ramparts, and going forward to meet the emissary of those within, found himself face to face with Cartwright. The latter said: " I am the representative of every man of scientific eminence in our capital. We are not many in numbers, but are determined to die rather than acquiesce in the rule of mere superstition. Will you convey a message from us to the hierarchy?"
"I will listen to what you say," said Wall.
"First I say this, that we all condemn your treachery—you have traded on the discontent of the army to hand over the State to fanatics."
"What is your message?" asked Wall.
"I am coming to it. One thing I must add. It is merely personal, but since this is the last time we meet I must tell you, that you may realise the universal condemnation of your action. When my daughter heard of what you had done, she repudiated you. I do not know what kind of informal understanding there was between you. It is all over now. She is the affianced wife of my friend Forest. She begged him, however, to save you from the men I had sent to arrest you, and shoot you down if need be. So Forest warned you and ruined my plans. If you have succeeded it is merely by Forest's generosity to a defeated rival."
"Is this the message you want to send?" asked Wall.
"No, this is it. We are a small but determined body, we will blow the fortress up rather than yield, hoping thus to raise our fellow-citizens to rise against the tyranny. But, at the same time, if there is anything in your plan, if you have a possible plan at all for saving Astria from the impending calamity, we are willing to give up our resistance. Let us confer with your representatives, spend one day in discussion, then on the morrow we will come to a decision. If there is any reasonable expectation of the success of your plan, we will loyally co-operate."
"You have already had your opportunity of discussion."
"Believe me, we shall weigh the evidence in a different spirit, now that we know that death awaits us if we do not agree. We may have been too hasty then, but science is ready to inspire a martyr's death as well as religion."
"I refuse to take your message," said Wall. "I will give you an hour, and if you do not submit you must take the consequences."
Cartwright had prepared his words with the utmost care. By telling Wall unwelcome truths he hoped to make him accept as true his description of the attitude of his party. The only object he had was, somehow or another, to gain a couple of days before the inevitable assault took place. There was ammunition enough for one day's fighting. Two days' respite would give them command of the situation. He had failed in making any impression on Wall, but in view of any failure of communication in the field, had, with his usual forethought, arranged for the delivery of written communications to a number of the members of the council, and the presentation of his arguments by trusted confederates. Consequently, instead of being left free to act, Wall received a message summoning him to receive the verdict of the deliberations of the supreme body. In the chamber various opinions were expressed as to the proper course to be pursued in the face of this rebellion, so insignificant in numbers, yet so significant of the attitude of the educated classes.
"They have struck at our authority, they must be instantly punished, no parley is possible," said the most fanatical.
"The revolution has been without bloodshed or violence on our part. Let us not stain it if a day's delay will gain our point," said the most gentle and moderate. Others said that to refuse to argue with these unbelievers would have a bad effect. A bishop, speaking for the Reformed Church, argued that it would show cowardice to resort to force of arms instead of relying on the force of reason, it would imply an uncertainty of conviction, but if their present opponents were convinced by argument, it would remove, once and for all, every ground for antagonism.
Now," he said, "is the only time in which the recusants meet us on equal terms. If we convince them now, hereafter no one can urge that we impose our views by compulsion. Moreover, let not the guilt of bloodshed rest on us. Many lives would be lost in an attack. Let us not take this responsibility till all other means have failed."
As the final outcome, it was voted by a large majority that operations against the rebels should be suspended for a day, and their representatives received for a conference with Farmer.
Wall sat in the place reserved for him, his head bent down, scarcely hearing what was said. Over his dull and aching sense spread the mephism of perfidy. How false he was, this fair speaking Cartwright, and Laura his daughter, she perfidious too! How well the father acted his robust part of stalwart liar—the daughter, too, had she lied in every look and word and inflection of voice? And within him sprang up that only resource of the wild animal before the hunter, the simple before the subtle layer of nets—the desire, the rage for an instant spring. The crafty worker of lies, the father—the daughter the luring scorner and perfidious entrancer—to fight the father, to forget the other, was the only way a simple soul could rise out of the accursed entanglement for ever weaving about him.
He rose and said: "Use economy of inspiration. It will not spread over the affairs of every day. This is a snare no child would fall in. Do you suppose a number of decent, upright men murdered the guards in the arsenal—for it was nothing else than murder—because they wanted an opportunity of argument. That's a mere pretext. There is some plot behind, for which they want to gain time. The arsenal must fall, if it costs our last man. And you, what are you doing here? Your place is with your congregations. Every one of you, from the highest to the lowest, is needed in that field. Leave all power in one man's hands, to settle things, right or wrong, promptly, and bend all our energies to the work."
And he strode out, took up his station before the arsenal, and launched his storming parties at the place.