The Angel of the Revolution, by George Griffith

Chapter 26.

An Interlude.

At noon on the 26th, as the tropical sun was pouring down its vertical rays upon the lovely valley of Aeria, the Ithuriel crossed the Ridge which divided it from the outer world, and came to rest on the level stretch of sward on the northern shore of the lake.

Before she touched the earth Arnold glanced rapidly round and discovered his aërial fleet resting under a series of large palm-thatched sheds which had already been erected to protect them from the burning sun, and the rare but violent tropical rain-storms. He counted them. There were only eleven, and therefore the evil tidings that they had heard from the captain of the Andromeda was true.

Even before greetings were exchanged with the colonists Natas ordered Nicholas Roburoff to be summoned on board alone. He received him in the lower saloon, on either side of which, as he went in, he found a member of the crew armed with a magazine rifle and fixed bayonet.

Seated at the cabin table were Natas, Tremayne, and Arnold. The President was received in cold and ominous silence, not even a glance of recognition was vouchsafed to him. He stood at the other end of the table with bowed head, a prisoner before his judges. Natas looked at him for some moments in dead silence, and there was a dark gleam of anger in his eyes which made Arnold tremble for the man whose life hung upon a word of a judge from whose sentence there could be no appeal.

At length Natas spoke; his voice was hard and even; there were no modulations in it that displayed the slightest feeling, whether of anger or any other emotion. It was like the voice of an impassive machine speaking the very words of Fate itself.

“You know why we have returned, and why you have been sent for?”

“Yes, Master.”

Roburoff’s voice was low and respectful, but there was no quaver of fear in it.

“You were left here in command of the settlement and in charge of the fleet. You were ordered to permit no vessel to leave the valley till the flagship returned. One of them was seen crossing the Mediterranean in a northerly direction three days ago. Either you are a traitor, or that vessel is in the hands of traitors. Explain.”

Nicholas Roburoff remained silent for a few moments. His breast heaved once or twice convulsively, as though he were striving hard to repress some violent emotion. Then he drew himself up like a soldier coming to attention, and, looking straight in front of him, told his story briefly and calmly, though he knew that, according to the laws of the Order, its sequel might, and probably would, be his own death.

“The night of the day on which the flagship left the valley was visited by a violent storm, which raged for about four hours without cessation. We had no proper shelter but the air-ships, and so I distributed the company among them.

“When nearly all had been provided for, there was one vessel left unoccupied, and four of the unmarried men had not been accommodated. They therefore took their places in the spare vessel. They were Peter Tamboff, Amos Vornjeh, Ivan Tscheszco, and Paul Oreloff, all Russians.

“We closed the hatches of the vessels, and remained inside till the storm ceased. When we were able to open the hatches again, it was pitch dark — so dark that it was impossible to see even a yard from one’s face. Suspecting no evil, we retired to rest again till sunrise. When day dawned it was found that the vessel in which the four men I have named had taken shelter had disappeared.

“I at once ordered three vessels to rise and pass through the defile. On the outside we separated and made the entire circuit of Aeria, rising as high as the fan-wheels would take us, and examining the horizon in all directions for the missing vessel.

“We failed to discover her, and were forced to the conclusion that the deserters had taken her away early in the night at full speed, and would, therefore, be far beyond the possibility of capture, as we possessed no faster vessel than the missing one. So we returned. That is all.”

“Go to the forward cabin and remain there till you’re sent for,” said Natas.

The President instantly turned and walked mechanically through the door that was opened for him by one of the sentinels. The other went in front of him, the second behind, closing the door as he left the saloon.

A brief discussion took place between Natas and his two lieutenants, and within a quarter of an hour Nicholas Roburoff was again standing at the end of the table to hear the decision of his judges. Without any preamble it was delivered by Natas in these words —

“We have heard your story, and believe it. You have been guilty of a serious mistake, for these four men were all ordinary members of the Outer Circle, who had only been brought here on account of their mechanical skill to occupy subordinate positions. You therefore committed a grave error, amounting almost to a breach of the rule which states that no members of the Outer Circle shall be entrusted with any charge, or work, save under the supervision of a member of the Inner Circle responsible for them.

“Had such a breach been even technically committed your life would have been forfeited, and you would have been executed for breach of trust. We have considered the circumstances, and find you guilty of indiscretion and want of forethought.

“You will cease from now to be President of the Inner Circle. Your place will be taken for the time by Alan Tremayne as Chief of the Executive. You will cease also to share the Councils of the Order for a space of twelve months, during which time you will be incapable of any responsible charge or authority. Your restoration will, of course, depend upon your behaviour. I have said.”

As he finished speaking Natas waved his hand towards the door. It was opened, the sentries stepped aside, and Nicholas Roburoff walked out in silence, with bowed head and a heart heavy with shame. The penalty was really the most severe that could be inflicted on him, for he found himself suddenly deprived both of authority and the confidence of his chiefs at the very hour when the work of the Brotherhood was culminating to its fruition.

Yet, heavy as the punishment seemed in comparison with the fault, it was justified by the necessities of the case. Without the strictest safeguards, not only against treachery or disobedience, but even mere carelessness, it would have been impossible to have carried on the tremendous work which the Brotherhood had silently and secretly accomplished, and which was soon to produce results as momentous as they would be unexpected. No one knew this better than the late President himself, who frankly acknowledged the justice and the necessity of his punishment, and prepared to devote himself heart and soul to regaining his lost credit in the eyes of the Master.

No sooner was the sentence pronounced than the matter was instantly dismissed and never alluded to again, so far as Roburoff was concerned, by any one. No one presumed even to comment upon a word or deed of the Master. The disgraced President fell naturally, and apparently without observation, into his humbler sphere of duties, and the members of the colony treated him with exactly the same friendliness and fraternity as they had done before. Natas had decided, and there was nothing more for any one to say or do in the matter.

Arnold, as soon as he had exchanged greetings with the Princess, now known simply as Anna Ornovski, and his other friends and acquaintances in the colony, not, of course, forgetting Louis Holt, at once shut himself up in his laboratory by the turbine, and for the next four hours remained invisible, preparing a large supply of his motor gases, and pumping them into the exhausted cylinders of the Ithuriel, and all the others that were available, by means of his hydraulic machinery.

Soon after four he had finished his task, and come out to take his part in a ceremony of a very different character to that at which he had been obliged to assist earlier in the day. This was the fulfilment of the promise which Radna Michaelis had made to Colston in the Council-chamber of the house on Clapham Common on the evening of his departure on the expedition which had so brilliantly proved the powers of the Ariel, and brought such confusion on the enemies of the Brotherhood.

Almost the first words that Colston had said to Radna when he boarded the Avondale were —

“Natasha is yonder, safe and sound, and you are mine at last!”

And she had replied very quietly, yet with a thrill in her voice that told her lover how gladly she accepted her own condition —

“What you have fairly won is yours to take when you will have it. Besides, you cannot do justice on Kastovitch now, for it has already been done. We had news before we left England that he had been shot through the heart by the brother of a girl whom he treated worse than he treated me.”

But, as has been stated before, the laws of the Brotherhood did not permit of the marriage of any of its members without the direct sanction of Natas, and therefore it had been necessary to wait until now.

As Radna and Colston were two of the most trusted and prominent members of the Inner Circle, it was fitting that their wedding should be honoured by the presence of the Master in person. An added solemnity was also given to it by the fact that, in all human probability, it was the first time since the world began that the mighty hills which looked down upon Aeria had witnessed the plighting of the troth of a man and a woman.

Like all other formal acts of the Brotherhood, the ceremony was simple in the extreme; but, in this case at least, it was none the less impressive on that account. In a lovely glade, through which a crystal stream ran laughing on its way to the lake, Natas sat under the shade of a spreading tree-fern. In front of him was a small table covered with a white cloth, on which lay a roll of parchment and a copy of the Hebrew Scriptures.

At this table, facing Natas, stood the betrothed pair with their witnesses, Natasha for Radna, and Arnold for Colston, or Alexis Mazanoff, to give him his true name, which must, of course, be used on such an occasion. In a wide semicircle some four yards off stood all the members of the little community, Louis Holt and his faithful servitor not excepted.

In the midst of a silence broken only by the whispering of the warm, scented wind in the tree-tops, the Master of the Terror spoke in a kindly yet solemn tone —

“Alexis Mazanoff and Radna Michaelis, you stand here before Heaven, and in the presence of your comrades, to take each other for wedded wife and husband, till death shall part the hands that now are joined!

“Your mutual vows have long ago been pledged, and what you are about to do is good earnest of their fulfilment. But above the duty that you owe to each other stands your duty to that great Cause to which you have already irrevocably devoted your lives. You have already sworn that as long as you shall live its ends shall be your ends, and that no human considerations shall weigh with you where those ends are concerned. Do you take each other for husband and wife subject to that condition and all that it implies?”

“We do!” replied the lovers with one voice, and then Natas went on —

“Then by the laws of our Order, the only laws that we are permitted to obey, I pronounce you man and wife before Heaven and this company. Be faithful to each other and the Cause in the days to come as you have been in the days that are past, and if it shall please the Master of Destiny that you shall be blessed with children, see to it that you train them up in the love of truth, freedom, and justice, and in the hatred of tyranny and wrong.

“May the blessings of life be yours as you shall deserve them, and when the appointed hour shall come, may you be found ready to pass from the mystery of the things that are into the deeper mystery of the things that are to be!”

So saying, the Master raised his hands as though in blessing, and as Alexis and Radna bent their heads the slanting sunrays fell upon the thickly coiled white hair of the new-made wife, crowning her shapely head like a diadem of silver.

All that remained to do now was to sign the Marriage Roll of the Brotherhood, and when they had done this the entry stood as follows:—

“Married on the tenth day of the Month Tamuz, in the Year of the World five thousand six hundred and sixty-four, in the presence of me, Natas, and those of the Brotherhood now resident in the Colony of Aeria:—

{ALEXIS MAZANOFF, {RADNA MICHAELIS MAZANOFF.

Witnesses {RICHARD ARNOLD, {NATASHA.

As Natasha laid down the pen after signing she looked up quickly, as though moved by some sudden impulse, her eyes met Arnold’s, and an instant later the happy flush on Radna’s cheek was rivalled by that which rose to her own. Her lips half parted in a smile, and then she turned suddenly away to be the first to offer her congratulations to the newly-wedded wife, while Arnold, his heart beating as it had never done since the model of the Ariel first rose from the floor of his room in the Southwark tenement-house, grasped Mazanoff by the hand and said simply —

“God bless you both, old man!”

The whole ceremony had not taken more than fifteen minutes from beginning to end. After Arnold came Tremayne with his good wishes, and then Anna Ornovski and the rest of the friends and comrades of the newly-wedded lovers.

One usually conspicuous feature in similar ceremonies was entirely wanting. There were no wedding presents. For this there was a very sufficient reason. All the property of the members of the Inner Circle, saving only articles of personal necessity, were held in common. Articles of mere convenience or luxury were looked upon with indifference, if not with absolute contempt, and so no one had anything to give.

After all, this was not a very serious matter for a company of men and women who held in their hands the power of levying indemnities to any amount upon the wealth-centres of the world under pain of immediate destruction.

That evening the supper of the colonists took the shape of a sylvan marriage feast, eaten in the open air under the palms and tree ferns, as the sun was sinking down behind the western peaks of Aeria, and the full moon was rising over those to the eastward.

The whole earth might have been searched in vain for a happier company of men and women than that which sat down to the marriage feast of Radna Michaelis and Alexis Mazanoff in the virgin groves of Aeria. For the time being the world-war and all its horrors were forgotten, and they allowed their thoughts to turn without restraint to the promise of the days when the work of the Brotherhood should be accomplished, and there should be peace on earth at last.

It had been decided that three of the air-ships would be sufficient for the chase and capture or destruction, as the case might be, of the deserters. These were the Ithuriel, under the command of Arnold; the Ariel, commanded by Mazanoff, who, of course, did not sail alone; and the Orion, in charge of Tremayne, who had already mastered the details of aërial navigation under Arnold’s tuition.

To the unspeakable satisfaction of the latter, Natas had signified his intention of accompanying him in the Ithuriel. As Natasha utterly refused to be parted so soon from her father again, one of his attendants was dispensed with and she took his place. This fact had, of course, something to do with the Admiral’s satisfaction with the arrangement.

By nine o’clock the moon was high in the heavens. At that hour the fan-wheels of the little squadron rose from the decks, and at a signal from Arnold began to revolve. The three vessels ascended quietly into the air amidst the cheers and farewells of the colonists, and in single file passed slowly down the beautiful valley bathed in the brilliant moonlight. One by one they disappeared through the defile that led to the outer world, and, once clear of the mountains, the Ithuriel, with one of her consorts on either side, headed away due north at the speed of a hundred miles an hour.

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Last updated Saturday, March 1, 2014 at 20:37