"But you must tell me what you mean," said Brand, breathlessly, and with his face still somewhat pale. "You suggest there has been a trick. That is why you have come from Naples? What do you know? What is about to happen? For God's sake, Calabressa, don't have any mystification about it: what is it that you know—that you suspect—that you have heard?"
"My dear friend," said Calabressa, with some anxiety, "perhaps I have been indiscreet. I know nothing: what can I know? But I show you a trick—if only to prepare you for any news—and you think it is very serious. Oh no; do not be too hopeful—do not think it is serious—think it was a foolish trick—"
And so, notwithstanding all that Brand could do to force some definite explanation from him, Calabressa succeeded in getting away, promising to carry to Natalie any message Brand might send in the evening; and as for Brand himself, it was now time for him to go up to Lisle Street, so that he had something else to think of than idle mystifications.
For this was how he took it in the end: Calabressa was whimsical, fantastic, mysterious; he had been playing with the notion that Brand had been entrapped into this service; he had succeeded in showing himself how it might have been done. The worst of it was—had he been putting vain hopes into the mind of Natalie? Was this the cause of her message? In the midst of all this bewildering uncertainty, Brand set himself to the work left unfinished by Reitzei, and found Ferdinand Lind as pleasant and friendly a colleague as ever.
But a few days after he was startled by being summoned back to Lisle Street, after he had gone home in the afternoon. He found Ferdinand Lind as calm and collected as usual, though he spoke in a hard, dry voice. He was then informed that Lind himself and Beratinsky were about to leave London for a time; that the Council wished Brand to conduct the business at Lisle Street as best he could in their absence; and that he was to summon to his aid such of the officers of the Society as he chose. He asked no explanations, and Lind vouchsafed none. There was something unusual in the expression of the man's face.
Well, Brand installed himself in Lisle Street, and got along as best he could with the assistance of Gathorne Edwards and one or two others. But not one of them, any more than himself, knew what had happened or was happening. No word or message of any kind came from Calabressa, or Lind, or the Society, or any one. Day after day Brand get through his work with patience, but without interest; only for the time being, these necessities of the hour beguiled him from thinking of the hideous, inevitable thing that lay ahead in his life.
When news did come, it was sudden and terrible. One night he and Edwards were alone in the rooms in Lisle Street, when a letter, sent through a roundabout channel, was put into his hands. He opened it carelessly, glanced at the beginning of it, then he uttered an exclamation; then, as he read on, Edwards noticed that his companion's face was ghastly pale, even to his lips.
"Gracious heavens!—Edwards, read it!" he said, quite breathlessly. He dropped the letter on the table. There was no wild joy at his own deliverance in this man's face, there was terror rather; it was not of himself at all he was thinking, but of the death-agony of Natalie Lind when she should hear of her father's doom.
"Why, this is very good news, Brand," Edwards cried, wondering. "You are released from that affair—"
But then he read farther, and he, too, became agitated.
"What—what does it mean? Lind, Beratinsky, Reitzei accused of conspiracy—misusing the powers intrusted to them as officers of the Society—Reitzei acquitted on giving evidence—Lind and Beratinsky condemned!"
Edwards looked at his companion, aghast, and said,
"You know what the penalty is, Brand?"
The other nodded. Edwards returned to the letter, reading aloud, in detached scraps, his voice giving evidence of his astonishment and dismay.
"Beratinsky, allowed the option of undertaking the duty from which you are released, accepts—it is his only chance, I suppose—poor devil! what chance is it, after all?" He put the letter back on the table. "What is all this that has happened, Brand?"
Brand did not answer. He had risen to his feet; he stood like one bound with chains; there was suffering and an infinite pity in the haggard face.
"Why is not Natalie here?" he said; and it was strange that two men so different from each other as Brand and Calabressa should in such a crisis have had the same instinctive thought. The lives and fates of men were nothing; it was the heart of a girl that concerned them. "They will tell her—some of them over there—they will tell her suddenly that her father is condemned to die! Why is she—among—among strangers?"
He pulled out his watch hastily, but long ago the night-mail had left for Dover. At this moment the bell rung below, and he started; it was unusual for them to have a visitor at such an hour.
"It is only that drunken fool Kirski," Edwards said. "I asked him to come here to-night."
It was a dark, wet, and cold night when Calabressa felt his way down the gangway leading from the Admiralty Pier into the small Channel steamer that lay slightly rolling at her moorings. Most of the passengers who were already on board had got to leeward of the deck-cabins, and sat huddled up there, undistinguishable bundles of rugs. For a time he almost despaired of finding out Reitzei, but at last he was successful; and he had to explain to this particular bundle of rugs that he had changed his mind, and would himself travel with him to Naples.
It was a dirty night in crossing, and both suffered considerably; the difference being that, as soon as they got into the smooth waters of Calais harbor, Calabressa recovered himself directly, whereas Reitzei remained an almost inanimate heap of wrappings, and had to be assisted or shoved up the steep gangway into the glare of the officials' lamps. Then, as soon as he had got into a compartment of the railway-carriage, he rolled himself up in a corner, and sought to forget his sufferings in sleep.
Calabressa was walking up and down on the platform. At length the bell rung, and he was about to step into the compartment, when he found himself preceded by a lady.
"I beg your pardon, madame," said he, politely, "but it is a carriage for smokers."
"And if one wishes to smoke, one is permitted—is it not so?" said the stranger, cheerfully.
Calabressa at once held open the door for her, and then followed. These three had the compartment to themselves.
She was a young lady, good-looking, tall, bright-complexioned, with brown eyes that had plenty of fire in them, and a pleasant smile that showed brilliant teeth. Calabressa, sitting opposite her, judged that she was an Austrian, from the number of bags and knickknacks she had, all in red Russia leather, and from the number of trinkets she wore, mostly of polished steel or silver. She opened a little tortoise-shell cigarette-case, took out a cigarette, and gracefully accepted the light that Calabressa offered her. By this time the train had started, and was thundering through the night.
The young lady was very frank and affable; she talked to her companion opposite—Reitzei being fast asleep—about a great many things; she lit cigarette after cigarette. She spoke of her husband moreover; and complained that he should have to go and fight in some one else's quarrel. Why could not ladies who went to the tables at Monte Carlo keep their temper, that a perfectly neutral third person should be summoned to fight a duel on behalf of one of them?
"You are going to rejoin him, then, madame?" said Calabressa.
"Not at all," she said, laughing. "I have my own affairs."
After some time, she said, with quite a humorous smile,
"My dear sir, I hope I do not keep you from sleeping. But you are puzzled about me; you think you have seen me before, but cannot tell where."
"There you are perfectly right, madame."
"Think of the day before yesterday. You were crossing in the steamer. You were so good as to suggest to a lady on board that nearer the centre vessel would be safer for her—"
He stared at her again. Could this be the same lady who, on the day that he crossed, was seated right at the stern of the steamer her brown hair flying about with the wind, her white teeth flashing as she laughed and joked with the sailors, her eyes full of life and merriment as she pitched up and down? Calabressa, before the paroxysms of his woe overtook him, had had the bravery to go and remonstrate with this young lady, and to tell her she would be more comfortable nearer the middle of the boat; but she had laughingly told him she was a sailor's daughter, and was not afraid of the sea. Well, this handsome young lady opposite certainly laughed like that other, but still—
"Oh," she said, "do I puzzle you with such a simple thing? My hair was brown the day before yesterday, it is black to-day; is that a sufficient disguise? Pardieu, when I went to a music-hall in London that same night to see some stupid nonsense—bah! such stupid nonsense I have never seen in the world—I went dressed as a man. Only for exercise, you perceive: one does not need disguises in London."
Calabressa was becoming more and more mystified, and she saw it, and her amusement increased.
"Come, my friend," she said, "you cannot deny that you also are political?"
"I, madame?" said Calabressa, with great innocence.
"Oh yes. And you are not on the side of the big battalions, eh?"
"I declare to you, madame—"
She glanced at Reitzei.
"Your friend sleeps sound. Come, shall I tell you something? You did not say a word, for example, when you stepped on shore, to a gentleman in a big cloak who had a lantern—"
"Madame, I beg of you!" he exclaimed, in a low voice, also glancing at Reitzei.
"What!" she said, laughing. "Then you have the honor of the acquaintance of my old friend Biard? The rogue, to take a post like that! Oh, I think my husband could speak more frankly with you; I can only guess."
"You are somewhat indiscreet, madame," said Calabressa, coldly.
"I indiscreet?" she said, flickering off the ash of her cigarette with a finger of the small gloved hand. Then she said, with mock seriousness, "How can one be indiscreet with a friend of the good man Biard? Come, I will give you a lesson in sincerity. My husband is gone to fight a duel, I told you; yes, but his enemy is a St. Petersburg general who belonged to the Third Section. They should not let Russians play at Monte Carlo; it is so easy to pick a quarrel with them. And now about myself; you want to know what I am—what I am about. Ah, I perceive it, monsieur. Well, this time, on the other hand, I shall be discreet. But if you hear of something within a few weeks—if the whole of the world begins to chatter about it—and you say, 'Well, that woman had pluck'—then you can think of our little conversation during the night. We must be getting near Amiens, is it not so?"
She took from her traveling-bag a small apparatus for showering eau-de-cologne in spray, and with this sprinkled her forehead; afterward removing the drops with a soft sponge, and smoothing her rebellious black hair. Then she took out a tiny flask and cup of silver.
"Permit me, monsieur, to give you a little cognac, after so many cigarettes. I fear you have only been smoking to keep me company—"
"A thousand thanks, madame!" said Calabressa, who certainly did not refuse. She took none herself; indeed, she had just time to put her bags in order again when the train slowed into Amiens station; and she, bidding her bewildered and bewitched companion a most courteous farewell, got out and departed.
Calabressa himself soon fell asleep, and did not wake until they were near Paris. By this time the bundle of rugs in the corner had begun to show signs of animation.
"Well, friend Reitzei you have had a good sleep," said Calabressa, yawning, and stretching his arms.
"I have slept a little."
"You have slept all night—what more? What do you know, for example, of the young lady who was in the carriage?"
"I saw her come in," Reitzei said, indifferently, "and I heard you talking once or twice. What was she?"
"There you ask me a pretty question. My belief is that she was either one of those Nihilist madwomen, or else the devil himself in a new shape. At any rate, she had some good cognac."
"I should like some coffee now, Signor Calabressa; and you?"
"I would not refuse it."
Indeed, during all this journey to Naples, Calabressa and his companion talked much more of the commonplace incidents and wants of travel than of the graver matters that lay before them. Calabressa was especially resolute in doing so. He did not like to look ahead. He kept reminding himself that he was simply the agent of the Council; he was carrying out their behests; the consequences were for others to deal with. He had fulfilled his commission; he had procured sufficient proof of the suspected conspiracy; if evil-doers were to be punished, was he responsible? Fiat justitia! he kept repeating to himself. He was answerable to the Council alone. He had done his duty.
But from time to time—and especially when they were travelling at night, and he was awake—a haunting dread possessed him. How should he appear before these two women in Naples? His old friend Natalie Berezolyi had been grievously wronged; she had suffered through long years; but a wife forgets much when her husband is about to die. And a daughter? Lind had been an affectionate father enough to this girl; these two had been companions all her lifetime; recent incidents would surely be forgotten in her terror over the fact that it was her own appeal to the Council that had wrought her father's death. And then he, Calabressa, what could he say? It was through him she had invoked these unknown powers; it was his counsel that had taken her to Naples; and he was the immediate instrument that would produce this tragic end.
He would not think of it. At the various places where they stopped he worried about food and drink, and angrily haggled about hotel-bills: he read innumerable stupid little newspapers from morning till night; he smoked Reitzei nearly blind. At last they reached Naples.
Within an hour after their arrival Calabressa, alone, was in Tommaso's wine-vaults talking to the ghoul-like occupant. A bell rung, faint and muffled, in the distance; he passed to the back of the vaults, and lit a candle that Tommaso handed him; then he followed what seemed, from the rumble overhead, some kind of subterranean corridor. But at the end of this long sub-way he began to ascend; then he reached some steps; finally, he was on an ordinary staircase, with daylight around him, and above him a landing with two doors, both shut.
Opening one of these doors, after having knocked thrice, he entered a large, bare chamber which was occupied by three men, all seated at a table which was covered with papers. One of them, Von Zoesch, rose.
"That is good; that is very well settled," he said to the other two. "It is a good piece of work. Now here is this English business, and the report of our wily friend, Calabressa. What is it, Calabressa? We had your telegram; we have sent for Lind and Beratinsky; what more?"
"Excellency, I have fulfilled your commission, I hope with judgment," Calabressa said, his cap in his hand. "I believe it is clear that the Englishman had that duty put upon him by fraudulent means."
"It is a pity if it be so; it will cost us some further trouble, and we have other things to think about at present." Then he added, lightly, "but it will please your young lady friend, Calabressa. Well?"
"Excellency, you forget it may not quite so well please her if it is found that her father was in the conspiracy," said Calabressa, submissively.
"Why not?" answered the bluff, tall soldier. "However, to the point, Calabressa. What have you discovered? and your proofs."
"I have none, your Excellency; but I have brought with me one of the four in the ballot who is willing to confess. Why is he willing to confess?" said Calabressa, with a little triumphant smile; "because he thinks the gentlemen of the Council know already."
"And you have frightened the poor devil, no doubt," said Von Zoesch, laughing.
"I have on the contrary, assured him of pardon," said Calabressa, gravely. It is within the powers you gave me, Excellency. I have pledged my honor—"
"Oh yes, yes; very well. But do you mean to tell us, my good Calabressa," said this tall man, speaking more seriously, "that you have proof of these three—Lind, Beratinsky, Reitzei—having combined to impose on the Englishman? Not Lind, surely? Perhaps the other two—"
"Your Excellency, it is for you to investigate further and determine. I will tell you how I proceeded. I went to the Englishman, and got minute particulars of what occurred. I formed my own little story, my guess, my theory. I got hold of Reitzei, and hinted that it was all known. On my faith, he never thought of denying anything, he was so frightened! But regard this, Excellency; I know nothing. I can give you the Englishman's account; then, if you get that of Reitzei, and the two correspond, it is a good proof that Reitzei is not lying in his confession. It is for you to examine him, Excellency."'
"No, it is not for me," the ruddy-faced soldier-looking man said, and then he turned to his two companions. The one was the Secretary Granaglia: the other was a broad-shouldered, elderly man, with strikingly handsome features of the modern Greek type, a pallid, wax-like complexion, and thoughtful, impenetrable eyes. "Brother Conventzi, I withdraw from this affair. I leave it in hands of the Council; one of the accused was in former days my friend; it is not right that I should interfere."
"And I also, Excellency," said Calabressa, eagerly. "I have fulfilled my commission; may not I retire now also?"
"Brother Granaglia will take down your report in writing; then you are free, my Calabressa. But you will take the summons of the Council to your friend Reitzei; I suppose he will have to be examined before the others arrive."
And so it came about that neither the General von Zoesch nor Calabressa was present when the trial, if trial it could be called, took place. There were no formalities. In this same big bare room seven members of the Council sat at the table, Brother Conventz presiding, the Secretary Granaglia at the foot, with writing-materials before him. Ferdinand Lind and Beratinsky stood between them and the side-wall apparently impassive. Reitzei was nearer the window, pallid, uneasy, his eyes wandering about the room, but avoiding the place where his former colleagues stood.
The President briefly stated the accusation against them, and read Reitzei's account of his share in what had taken place. He asked if they had anything to deny or to explain.
Beratinsky was the first to speak.
"Illustrious Brethren of the Council," he began, as if with some set speech; but his color suddenly forsook him, and he halted and looked helplessly round. Then he said, wildly, "I declare that I am innocent—I say that I am innocent! I never should have thought of it, gentlemen. It was Lind's suggestion; he wished to get rid of the man; I declare I had nothing to gain. Gentlemen, judge for yourselves: what had I to gain?"
He looked from one to the other; the grave faces were mostly regarding Granaglia, who was slowly and carefully putting the words down.
Then Lind spoke, clearly and coldly:
"I have nothing to deny. What I did was done in the interests of the Society. My reward for my long services is that I am haled here like a pickpocket. It is the second time; it will be the last. I have done, now, with the labor of my life. You can reap the fruits of it. Do with me what you please."
The President rose.
"The gentlemen may now retire; the decision of the Council will be communicated to them hereafter."
A bell rung; Tommaso appeared; Lind and Beratinsky were conducted down the stairs and through the dark corridor. In a few seconds Tommaso returned, and performed a like office for Reitzei.
The deliberation of the Council were but of short duration. The guilt of the accused was clear; and clear and positive was the penalty prescribed by the articles of the Society. But, in consideration of the fact that Beratinsky had been led into this affair by Lind, it was resolved to offer him the alternative of his taking over the service from which Brand was released. This afforded but a poor chance of escape, but Beratinsky was in a desperate position. That same evening he accepted; and the Secretary Granaglia was forthwith ordered to report the result of these proceedings to England, and give certain instructions as to the further conduct of business there.
The Secretary Granaglia performed this task with his usual equanimity. He was merely a machine registering the decrees of the Council; it was no affair of his to be concerned about the fate of Ferdinand Lind; he had even forgotten the existence of the two women who had been patiently waiting day after day at that hotel, alternately hoping and fearing to learn what had occurred.
PUT TO THE PROOF.
It was not at all likely that, at such a crisis, George Brand should pay much attention to the man Kirski, who was now ushered into the room. He left Edwards to deal with him. In any case he could not have understood a word they were saying, except through the interpretation of Edwards, and that was a tedious process. He had other things to think of.
Edwards was in a somewhat nervous and excited condition after hearing this strange news, and he grew both impatient and angry when he saw that Kirski was again half dazed with drink.
"Yes, I thought so!" he exclaimed, looking as fierce as the mild student-face permitted. "This is why you are not at the shop when I called to-day. What do you mean by it? What has become of your promises?"
"Little father, I have great trouble," said the man, humbly.
"You! You in trouble!" said Edwards, angrily. "You do not know what trouble is. You have everything in the world you could wish for. You have good friends, as much employment as you can want, fair wages, and a comfortable home. If your wife ran away from you, isn't it a good riddance? And then, instead of setting about your work like a good citizen, you think of nothing but murdering a man who is as far away from you as the man in the moon, and then you take to drinking, and become a nuisance to every one."
"Little father, I have many troubles, and I wish to forget."
"Your troubles!" said Edwards, though his anger was a little bit assumed: he wished to frighten the man into better ways. "What are your troubles? Think of that beautiful lady you are always talking about, who interested herself in you—the bigger fool she!—think of her trouble when she knows that her father is to die; and for what? Because he was not obedient to the laws of the Society. And he is punished with death; and you, have you been obedient? What has become of your promises to me?"
The man before him seemed at this moment to arouse himself. He answered nothing to the reproaches hurled at him; but said, with a glance of eager interest in the sunken eyes,
"Is she in great trouble, little father?"
This gleam of intelligence rather startled Edwards. He had been merely scolding a half-drunken poor devil, and had been incautious as to what he said. He continued, with greater discretion,
"Would she have her troubles made any the less if she knew how you were behaving? She was interested in you; many a time she asked about you—"
"Yes, yes," the man said, slowly; and he was twisting about the cap that he held in his hand.
"And she gave you her portrait. Well, I am glad you knew you were not fit to retain such a gift. A young lady like that does not give her portrait to be taken into public-houses—"
"No more—do not say any more, little father," Kirski said, though in the same humble way. "It is useless."
"I will not go back to any public-house—never."
"So you said to me four days ago," Edwards answered.
"This time it is true," he said, though he did not lift his bleared eyes. "To-morrow I will take back the portrait, little father; it shall remain with me, in my room. I do not go back to any public-house, I shall be no more trouble." Then he said, timidly raising his eyes, "Does she weep—that beautiful one?"
"Yes, no doubt," said Edwards, hastily, and in some confusion. "Is it not natural? But you must not say a word about it; it is a secret. Think of it, and what one has to suffer in this world, and then ask yourself if you will add to the trouble of one who has been so kind to you. Now do I understand you aright? Is it a definite promise this time?"
"This time, yes, little father. You will have no more need to complain of me, I will not add to any one's trouble. To-morrow—no, to-night I take back the portrait; it is sacred; I will not add to any one's trouble."
There was something strange about the man's manner, but Edwards put it down to the effects of drink, and was chiefly concerned in impressing on the dazed intelligence before him the responsibility of the promises he had given.
"To-morrow, then, at nine you are at the shop."
"Assuredly, if you wish it, little father."
"Remember, it is the last chance your master will give you. He is very kind to give you this chance. To-morrow you begin a new course of conduct; and when the young lady comes back I will tell her of it."
"I will not add to her troubles, little father; you may be sure of it this time."
When he had gone, Brand turned to his companion. He still held that letter in his hands. His face, that had grown somewhat haggard of late, was even paler than usual.
"I suppose I ought to feel very glad, Edwards," he said. "This is a reprieve, don't you see, so far as I am concerned. And yet I can't realize it; I don't seem to care about it; all the bitterness was over—"
"You are too bewildered yet, Brand—no wonder."
"If only the girl and her mother were over here!" he said; and then he added, with a quick instinct of fear, "What will she say to me? When she appealed to the Council, surely she could not have imagined that the result would be her father's death. But now that she finds it so—when she finds that, in order to rescue me, she has sacrificed him—"
He could not complete the sentence.
"But he has richly deserved it," said Edwards.
"That is not what she will look to," he said. "Edwards," he added, presently, "I am going home now. This place stifles me. I hate the look of it. That table is where they played their little sleight-of-hand business; and oh! the bravery of the one and the indifference of the other, and Lind's solemn exposition of duty and obedience, and all the rest of it! Well, what will be the result when this pretty story becomes known? Rascality among the very foremost officers of the Society! what are all those people who have recently joined us, who are thinking of joining us, likely to say? Are these your high-priests? Are these the apostles of self-sacrifice, and all the virtues?"
"It is bad enough, but not irreparable," said Edwards, calmly. "If a member here or there falls out, the association remains; if one of its high officers betrays his trust, you see how swift and terrible the punishment is."
"I do not," said Brand. "I see that the paper decree is swift enough, but what about the execution of it? Have the Council a body of executioners?"
"I don't know about that," said Edwards, simply; "but I know that when I was in Naples with Calabressa, I heard of the fate of several against whom decrees had been pronounced; and I know that in every instance they anticipated their own fate; the horror of being continually on the watch was too much for them. You may depend on it, that is what Lind will do. He is a proud man. He will not go slinking about, afraid at every street-corner of the knife of the Little Chaffinch, or some other of those Camorra fellows—"
"Edwards," said Brand, hastily, "there is a taint of blood—of treachery—about this whole affair that sickens me. It terrifies me when I think of what lies ahead. I—I think I have already tasted death, and the taste is still bitter in the mouth. I must get into the fresh air."
Edwards got his coat and hat, and followed. He saw that his companion was strangely excited.
"If all this work—if all we have been looking forward to—were to turn out to be a delusion," Brand said, hurriedly, when they had got into the dark clear night outside, "that would be worse than the suicide of Ferdinand Lind or the disappearance of Beratinsky. If this is to be the end—if these are our companions—"
"But how can you suggest such a thing?" Edwards protested. "Your imagination is filled with blackness, Brand. You are disturbed, shocked, afraid. Why, who are your colleagues? What do you think of—" Here he mentioned a whole string of names, some of them those of well-known Englishmen. "Do you accuse them of treachery? Have you not perfect confidence in them? Have they not perfect confidence in the work we are all pledged to?"
But he could not shake off this horrible feeling. He wished to be alone, to fight with it; he did not even think of going to Lord Evelyn; perhaps it was now too late. Shortly afterward he bade Edwards good-night, and made his way to his rooms at the foot of Buckingham Street.
Waters had left the lights low; he did not turn them up. Outside lay the black night-world of London, hushed and silent, with its thousand golden points of fire. He was glad to be alone.
And yet an unknown feeling of dread was upon him. It seemed as if now for the first time he realized what a terrible destiny had nearly been his; and that his escape, so far from rendering him joyful, had left him still trembling and horrified. Hitherto his pride had conquered. Even as he had undertaking that duty, it was his pride that had kept him outwardly calm and indifferent. He would not show fear, he would not even show repugnance, before these men. And it was pride, too, that had taught him at length and successfully to crush down certain vague rebellions of conscience. He would not go back from his oath. He would not go back from the promise to which Natalie's ring bound him. He would go through with this thing, and bid farewell to life; further than that no one could have demands on him.
But the sudden release from this dire pressure of will left his nerves somewhat unstrung. For the mere sake of companionship he would like to have taken Natalie's hand, to have heard her voice: that would have assured him, and given him courage. He knew not what dangers encompassed her, what agony she might not be suffering. And the night did not answer these sudden, wavering, confused questionings; the darkness outside was as silent as the grave.
Then a deeper gloom, almost touching despair, fell upon him. He saw in all those companions of his only so many dupes; the great hope of his life left him, the future became blank. He began to persuade himself that he had only toyed with that new-found faith; that it was the desperation of ennui, not a true hope, that had drawn him into this work; that henceforth he would have no right to call upon others to join in a vain undertaking. If such things as had just occurred were possible in this organization, with all its lofty aims and professions—if there was to be a background of assassination and conspiracy—why, this dream must go as others had done. Then what remained to him in life? He almost wished he had been allowed to go forward to this climax unknowing; to have gone with his heart still filled with faith; to be assured until the last moment that Natalie would remember how he had fulfilled his promise to her.
It was a dark night for him, within and without. But as he sat there at the window, or walked up and down, wrestling with these demons of doubt and despair, a dull blue light gradually filled the sky outside; the orange stars on the bridges grew less intense; the broad river became visible in the dusk. Then by-and-by the dull blue cleared into a pale steel-gray, and the forms of the boats could be made out, anchored in the stream there: these were the first indications of the coming dawn.
Somehow or other he ceased these restless pacings of his, and was attracted to the window, though he gazed but absently on the slow change taking place outside—the world-old wonder of the new day rising in the east. Up into that steely-gray glides a soft and luminous saffron-brown; it spreads and widens; against it the far dome of St. Paul's becomes a beautiful velvet-purple. A planet, that had been golden when it was in the dusk near the horizon, has now sailed up into the higher heaven, and shines a clear silver point. And now, listen! the hushed and muffled sounds in the silence; the great city is awakening from its sleep—there is the bark of a dog—the rumble of a cart is heard. And still that saffron glow spreads and kindles in the east, and the dome of St. Paul's is richer in hue than ever; the river between the black-gray bridges, shines now with a cold light, and the gas-lamps have grown pale. And then the final flood of glory wells up in the eastern skies, and all around him the higher buildings catch here and there a swift golden gleam: the sunrise is declared; there is a new day born for the sons and daughters of men.
The night had fled, and with it the hideous phantoms of the night. It seemed to him that he had escaped from the grave, and that he was only now shaking off the horror of it. Look at the beautiful, clear colors without; listen to the hum of the city awakening to all its cheerful activities; the new day has brought with it new desires, new hopes. He threw open the windows. The morning air was cold and sweet—the sparrows were beginning to chirp in the garden-plots below. Surely that black night was over and gone.
If only he could see Natalie for one moment, to assure her that he had succumbed but once, and for the last time, to despair. It was a confession he was bound to make; it would not lessen her trust in him. For now all through his soul a sweet, clear voice was ringing: it was the song the sunrise had brought him; it was the voice of Natalie herself, with all its proud pathos and fervor, as he had heard it in the olden days:
"A little time we gain from time To set our seasons in some chime, For harsh or sweet, or loud or low, With seasons played out long ago— And souls that in their time and prime Took part with summer or with snow, Lived abject lives out or sublime, And had there chance of seed to sow For service or disservice done To those days dead and this their son.
"A little time that we may fill Or with such good works or such ill As loose the bonds or make them strong, Wherein all manhood suffers wrong. By rose-hung river and light-foot rill There are who rest not; who think long Till they discern, as from a hill, At the sun's hour of morning song, Known of souls only, and those souls free, The sacred spaces of the sea."
Surely it was still for him and her together to stand on some such height, hand-in-hand, and watch the sunrise come over the sea and awakening world. They would forget the phantoms of the night, and the traitors gone down to Erubus; perhaps, for this new life together, they might seek a new clime. There was work for them still; and faith, and hope, and the constant assurance of love: the future might perchance be all the more beautiful because of these dark perils of the past.
As he lay thus communing with himself, the light shining in on his haggard face, Waters came into the room, and was greatly concerned to find that not only had his master not been to bed, but that the supper left out for him the night before had not been touched. Brand rose, without betraying any impatience over his attendant's pertinacious inquiries and remonstrances. He went and got writing materials, and wrote as follows:
"Dear Evelyn,—If you could go over to Naples for me—at once—I would take it as a great favor. I cannot go myself. Whether or not, come to see me at Lisle Street to-day, by twelve.
"Take this to Lord Evelyn, Waters; and if he is up get an answer."
"But your breakfast, sir. God bless me—"
"Never mind breakfast. I am going to lie down for an hour or two now: I have had some business to think over. Let me have some breakfast about eleven—when I ring."
"Very well, sir."
That was his phrase—he had had some business to think over. But it seemed to him, as he went into the adjacent room, that that night he had passed through worse than the bitterness of death.
The Secretary Granaglia, the business of the Council being over, carried the news to Von Zoesch. It was almost dark when he made his way up the steep little terraces in the garden of the villa at Posilipo. He found the tall general seated at the entrance to the grotto-like retreat, smoking a cigar in the dusk.
"You are late, Granaglia," he said.
"I had some difficulty in coming here," said the little man with the sallow face and the tired eyes. "The police are busy, or pretending to be. The Commendatore tells me that Zaccatelli has been stirring them up."
"Zaccatelli!" said Von Zoesch, with a laugh. "It will soon be time now for Zaccatelli to come down from his perch. Well, now, what is the result?"
Granaglia briefly recounted what had occurred: the other manifested no surprise.
"So this is the end of the Lind episode," he said, thoughtfully. "It is a pity that so able a man should be thrown away. He has worked well; I know of no one who will fill his place; but that must be seen to at once, Granaglia. How long have they given him?"
"A month, your Excellency. He wishes to go back to England to put his affairs in order. He has a firm nerve."
"He was a good-looking man when he was young," said Von Zoesch, apparently to himself. Then he added: "This Beratinsky, to whom the Zaccatelli affair has been transferred—what do you think of him? There must be no bungling, Granaglia. What do you think of him—is he to be trusted?"
"Your Excellency, if I were to give you my own impression, I should say not in the least. He accepts this service—why? Because he is otherwise lost for certain, and here is a chance: it is perhaps better than nothing. But he does not go forward with any conviction of duty: what is he thinking but of his chance of running away?"
"And perhaps running away beforehand, for example?"
"Oh no, your Excellency; at least, that has been provided for. Caprone and the brother of Caprone will wait upon him until the thing is over; and what is more, he will receive a hint that these two humble attendants of his are keeping an eye on him."
"Caprone dare not go to Rome."
"He is ready to go anywhere. They might as well try to lay hands on a ghost."
Von Zoesch rose, and stretched his huge frame, and yawned.
"So this is the end of the episode Lind," he said, idly. "It is a pity. But if a man plays a risky game and loses, he must pay. Perhaps the warning will be wholesome, Granaglia. Our friends must understand that our laws are not laid down for nothing, and that we are not afraid to punish offenders, even if these be among ourselves. I suppose there is nothing further to be done to-night?"
"I would ask your Excellency to remain here for a little time yet," said the Secretary.
"Are they coming so near? We must get Calabressa to procure some of them a dozen or two on board the schooner. However—"
He sat down again, and lit another cigar.
"We must pay Calabressa a compliment, Granaglia; it was well done—very clever; it has all turned out just as he imagined; it is not the first time he has done us good service, with all his volubility. Oh yes; the rascal knows when to hold his tongue. At this moment, for example, he refuses to open his lips.
"Pardon, your Excellency; but I do not understand you."
The general laughed a little, and continued talking—it was one way of passing the time.
"It is a good joke enough. The wily old Calabressa saw pretty clearly what the decision of the Council would be, and so he comes to me and entreats me to be the bearer of the news to Madame Lind and her daughter. Oh yes; it is good news, this deliverance of the Englishman; Madame Lind is an old friend of mine; she and her daughter will be grateful. But you perceive, Granaglia, that what the cunning old dog was determined to avoid was the reporting to Madame Lind that her husband had been sentenced. That was no part of the original programme. And now Calabressa holds his mouth shut; he keeps out of the way; it is left for me to go and inform the mother and daughter."
His voice became more serious.
"The devil take it, it is no pleasant task at all! One is never sure how the brain of a woman will work; you start the engine, but it may plunge back the wrong way and strike you. Calabressa is afraid. The fox is hiding in some hole until it is all over."
"Cannot I be of some service, your Excellency?" the Secretary said.
"No, no; but I thank you, friend Granaglia. It is a delicate matter; it must be approached with circumspection; and I as an old acquaintance of Madame Lind, ought not to shirk the duty."
Apparently, it was not Calabressa only who had some dread of the difficulties of news-bearer.
"It is impossible for your Excellency to go near the hotel at present," said the Secretary, promptly.
But his chief refused to accept this offered means of escape.
"That is true, but it is not a difficulty. To-night, friend Granaglia, you will send a message to the hotel, bidding them be at the Villa Odelschalchi to-morrow morning at eleven—you understand?"
"Certainly, your Excellency."
"Then I will meet them, and take the risk. Everything must be settled off at once: we have wasted too much time over this affair, Granaglia. When does the Genoa Council meet?"
"On the Seventh."
"To-morrow you must issue the summonses. Come, Granaglia, let us be stirring; it is cold. Where does Brother Conventz sleep to-night?"
"On board the schooner, your Excellency."
"I also. To-morrow, at eleven, you will be at Portici; to-night you will send the message to the ladies at the hotel; and also, if you can, find out where that rogue Calabressa is hiding."
That was the last of their talking. There was some locking up inside; then they passed down through the dark garden and out into the road. There was no one visible. They walked on in silence.
Punctually at eleven the next morning Natalie and her mother appeared at the iron gates of the Villa Odelschalchi and rang the bell. The porter appeared, admitted them, and then turned to the great white staircase, which Granaglia was at that moment seen to be descending.
"Will the ladies have the goodness to step into the garden?" said the Secretary, with grave courtesy. "General von Zoesch will be with them directly."
He accompanied them as far as the top of the terrace, and then bowed and withdrew.
If Natalie Lind was agitated now, it was not with fear. There was a fresh animation of color in her cheek; her eyes were brilliant and excited; she spoke in low, eager whispers.
"Oh, I know what he is coming to tell us, mother—you need not be afraid: I shall see it in his face before he comes near—I think I shall be able to hear it in the sound of his steps. Have courage, mother! why do you tremble so? Remember what Calabressa said. They are so powerful they can do everything; and you and the General von Zoesch old friends, too. Look at this, mother: do you see what I have brought with me?"
She opened her purse—her fingers were certainly a little nervous—and showed her mother a folded-up telegraph form.
"I am going to telegraph to him, mother: surely it is from me he should hear the news first. And then he might come here, mother, to go back with us: you will rest a few days after so much anxiety."
"I hope, my darling, it will all turn out well," said the mother, turning quickly as she heard footsteps.
The next second Von Zoesch appeared, his face red with embarrassment; but still Natalie with her first swift glance saw that his eyes were smiling and friendly, and her heart leaped up with a bound.
"My dear young lady," said he, taking her hand, "forgive me for making such a peremptory appointment—"
"But you bring good news'?" she said, breathlessly. "Oh, sir, I can see that you have succeeded—yes, yes—the danger is removed—you have saved him!"
"My dear young lady," said he smiling, but still greatly embarrassed, "it is my good fortune to be able to congratulate you. Ah, I thought that would bring some brightness to your eyes—"
She raised his hand, and kissed it twice passionately.
"Mother," she said, in a wild, joyful way, "will you not thank him for me? I do not know what I am saying—and then—"
The general had turned to her mother. Natalie quickly took out the telegraph-form, unfolded it, knelt down and put it on the garden-seat, and with trembling fingers wrote her message: "You are saved! Come to us at once; my mother and I wait here for you;" that was the substance of it. Then she rose, and for a second or two stood irresolute, silent, and shamefaced. Happily no one had noticed her. These two had gone forward, and were talking together in a low voice. She did not join them; she could not have spoken then, her heart was throbbing so violently with its newly-found joy.
"Stefan," said the mother—and there was a pleasant light in her sad eyes too—"I shall never forget the gratitude we owe you. I have nothing else to regard now but my child's happiness. You have saved her life to her."
"Yes, yes," he said, in stammering haste, "I am glad the child is happy. It would be a pity, at her time of life, and such a beautiful, brave young lady—yes, it would be a pity if she were to suffer: I am very glad. But there is another side to the question, Natalie; it refers to you. I have not such good news for you—that is, it depends on how you take it; but it is not good news—it will trouble you—only, it was inevitable—"
"What do you mean?" she said, calmly.
"Your husband," he said, regarding her somewhat anxiously.
"Yes," she said, without betraying any emotion.
"Well, you understand, we had not the power to release your English friend unless there had been injustice—or worse—in his being appointed. There was. More than that, it was very nearly a repetition of the old story. Your husband was again implicated."
She merely looked at him, waiting for him to continue.
"And the Council," he said, more embarrassed than ever, "had to try him for his complicity. He was tried and—condemned."
"To what?" she said, quite calmly.
"You must know, Natalie. He loses his life!"
She turned very pale.
"It was not so before," she managed to say, though her breath came and went quickly.
"It was; but then he was pardoned. This time there is no hope."
She stood silent for a second or two; then she said, regarding him with a sad look,
"You think me heartless, Stefan. You think I ought to be overwhelmed with grief. But—but I have been kept from my child for seventeen years. I have lived with the threat of the betrayal of my father hanging over me. The affection of a wife cannot endure everything. Still, I am—sorry—"
Her eyes were cast down, and they slowly filled with tears. Von Zoesch breathed more freely. He was eagerly explaining to her how this result had become inevitable—how he himself had had no participation in it, and so forth—when Natalie Lind stepped quickly up to them, looking from the one to the other. She saw something was wrong.
"Mother, what is it?" she said, in vague fear. She turned to Von Zoesch. "Oh, sir, if there is something you have not told me—if there is trouble—why was it not to me that you spoke?"
She took hold of her mother's hand.
"Mother, what is it?"
"My dear young lady," said Von Zoesch, interposing, "you know that life is made up of both bitter and sweet—"
"I wish to know, signore," she said, proudly, "what it is you have told my mother. If there is trouble, it is for her daughter to share it."
"Well, then, dear young lady, I will tell you," he said, "though it will grieve you also. I must explain to you. You cannot suppose that the happy news I deliver to you was the result of the will of any one man, or number of men. No. It was the result of the application of law and justice. Your—sweetheart, shall I call him?—was intrusted with a grave duty, which would most probably have cost him his life. In the ordinary way, no one could have released him from it, however much certain friends of yours here might have been interested in you, and grieved to see you unhappy. But there was this possibility—it was even a probability—that he had been selected for this service unfairly. Then, no doubt, if that could be proved, he ought to be released."
"Yes, yes," she said, impatiently.
"That was proved. Unfortunately, I have to tell you that among those convicted of this conspiracy was your father. Well, the laws of our association are strict—they are even terrible where a delinquent is in a position of high responsibility. My dear young lady, I must tell you the truth: your father has been adjudged guilty—and—and the punishment is—death!"
She uttered a quick, short cry of alarm, and turned with frightened eyes to her mother.
"Mother, is it true? is it true?"
The mother did not answer; she had clasped her trembling hands. Then the girl turned; there was a proud passion in her voice.
"Oh, sir, what tiger is there among you that is so athirst for blood? You save one man's life—after intercession and prayer you save one man's life—only to seize on that of another. And it is to me—it is to me, his daughter—that you come with congratulations! I am only a child; I am to be pleased: you speak of a sweetheart; but you do not tell me that you are about to murder my father! You give me my lover; in exchange you take my father's life. Is there a woman in all the world so despicable as to accept her happiness at such a cost?"
Involuntarily she crushed up the telegram she held in her hand and threw it away from her.
"It is not I, at all events," she exclaimed. "Oh, signore, you should not have mocked me with your congratulations. That is not the happiness you should offer to a daughter. But you have not killed him yet—there is time; let things be as they were; that is what my sweetheart, as you call him, will say; he and I are not afraid to suffer. Surely, rather that, than that he should marry a girl so heartless and cowardly as to purchase her happiness at the cost of her father's life?"
"My dear young lady," he said, with a great pity and concern in his face, "I can assure you what you think of is impossible. What is done cannot be undone."
Her proud indignation now gave way to terror.
"Oh no, signore, you cannot mean that! I cannot believe it! You have saved one man—oh, signore, for the love of Heaven, this other also! Have pity! How can I live, if I know that I have killed my father?"
He took both her hands in his, and strove to soothe down her wild terror and dismay. He declared to her she had nothing to do with it, no more than himself; that her father had been tried by his colleagues; that if he had not been, a fearful act of treachery would have been committed. She listened, or appeared to listen; but her lips were pale; her eyes had a strange look in them; she was breathless.
"Calabressa said they were all-powerful," she interrupted suddenly. "But are they all-powerful to slay only? Oh no, I cannot believe it! I will go to them; it cannot be too late; I will say to them that I would rather have died than appealed to them if I had known that this was to be the terrible result. And Calabressa—why did he not warn me? Or is he one of the blood-thirsty ones also—one of the tigers that crouch in the dark? Oh, signore, if they are all-powerful, they are all-powerful to pardon. May I not go to themselves?"
"It would be useless, my dear signorina," said Von Zoesch, with deep compassion in his voice. "I am sorry to grieve you, but justice has been done, and the decision is past recall. And do not blame poor old Calabressa—"
At this moment the bell of the outer gate rang, echoing through the empty house, and he started somewhat.
"Come, child," said her mother. "We have taken up too much of your time, Stefan. I wish there had been no drawback to your good news."
"At the present moment," he said, glancing somewhat anxiously toward the building, "I cannot ask you to stay, Natalie; but on some other occasion, and as soon as you please, I will give you any information you may wish. Remember, you have good friends here."
Natalie suffered herself to be led away. She seemed too horror-stricken to be able to speak. Von Zoesch accompanied them only to the terrace, and there bade them good-bye. Granaglia was waiting to show them to the gate. A few moments afterward they were in their carriage, returning to Naples.
They sat silent for some time, the mother regarding her daughter anxiously.
"Natalushka, what are you thinking of?"
The girl started: her eyes were filled with a haunting fear, as if she had just seen some terrible thing. And yet she spoke slowly and sadly and wistfully.
"I was thinking, mother, that perhaps it was not so hard to be condemned to die; for then there would come an end to one's suffering. And I was wondering whether there had been many women in the world who had to accuse themselves of taking a part in bringing about their own father's death. Oh, I hope not—I hope not!"
A second afterward she added, with more than the bitterness of tears in her trembling voice, "And—and I was thinking of General von Zoesch's congratulations, mother."
Lord Evelyn obeyed his friend's summons in considerable anxiety, if not even alarm; for he made no doubt that it had some connection with that mysterious undertaking to which Brand was pledged; but when he reached Lisle Street, and was shown into the larger room, no very serious business seemed going forward. Two or three of the best-known to him among the English members of the Society were present, grouped round a certain Irish M.P., who, with twinkling eyes but otherwise grave face, was describing the makeshifts of some provincial manager or other who could not pay his company their weekly salary. To the further surprise of the new-comer, also, Mr. Lind was absent; his chair was occupied by Gathorne Edwards.
He was asked to go into an inner room; and there he found Brand, looking much more like himself than he had done for some time back.
"It is awfully kind of you, Evelyn, to come at once. I heard you had returned to town yesterday. Well, what of the old people down in Wiltshire?"
Lord Evelyn was quite thrown off his guard by this frank cheerfulness. He forgot the uneasy forebodings with which he had left his house.
"Oh, capital old people!" he said, putting his hat and umbrella on the table—"excellent. But you see, Brand, it becomes a serious question if I have to bury myself in the country, and drink port-wine after dinner, and listen to full-blown, full-fed glorious old Tories, every time a sister of mine gets engaged to be married. And now that Rosalys has begun it, they'll all take to it, one after the other, like sheep jumping a ditch."
"They say Milbanke is a very nice young fellow," said Brand.
"Petted, a little. But then, an only son, and heaps of money: perhaps its natural. I know he is a ghastly hypocrite," added Lord Evelyn, who seemed to have some little grudge against his brother-in-law in prospect. "It was too bad of him to go egging on those old megatheria to talk politics until they were red in the face, denouncing Free-trade, and abusing the Ballot, and foretelling the ruin of the former as soon as the Education Act began to work. Then he pretended to be on their side—"
"What did you do?"
"I sat quiet. I was afraid I might be eaten. I relapsed into contemplation; and began to compose a volume on 'Tory Types: Some Survivals in English Politics. For the Information of Town Readers.'"
"Well, now you have done your duty, and cemented the alliance between the two families—by drinking port-wine, I suppose—what do you say to a little pleasure-trip?"
"Oh, is that all?" he said, looking up quickly. "Is that what your note meant?"
"The fact is, Evelyn," he said, with a trifle of embarrassment, "Natalie and her mother are in Naples, and I don't know precisely in what circumstances. I am a little anxious about them—I should like to know more of their surroundings: why, for one thing, I don't know whether they have any money, even. I would go over myself, Evelyn, but the truth is I cannot—not very well. At least I ought not to go; and I thought, if you had time—being an old friend of Natalie's—you would like to see that she was all right.
"Where is Lind?" said Lord Evelyn, suddenly.
"Lind is in Italy also," said Brand, evasively.
"Not with them?"
There was an awkward silence. At length Brand said,
"Something very serious has happened, Evelyn: and the question is whether, in the interests of the Society, it should not be kept a secret, if it is possible."
"I do not wish to know any secret," Lord Evelyn said, simply. "I am willing to go over to Naples at once, if I can be of any service."
"It is very kind of you; I thought you would say as much," Brand said, still hesitating. "But then I doubt whether you could be of much service unless you understood the whole situation of affairs. At present only two over here know what has occurred—Edwards and myself. Yes, I think you must know also. Read this letter; it came only last night."
He unlocked a drawer, took out a letter, and gave it to Lord Evelyn, who read it slowly. When he had finished, he put it on the table without a word.
"You understand?" Brand said, calmly. "That means that Lind is to be punished with death for treachery. Don't think about me; I've had a narrow escape, but I have escaped—thanks to Natalie's courage and decision. What I am concerned about is the effect that such a disclosure might have on the fortunes of the Society. Would it not provoke a widespread feeling of disgust? Wouldn't there always be a suspicion?"
"But you yourself, Brand!" Evelyn exclaimed, in amazement. "Why, you—I thought you would be the first to resign, after such an escape."
"I have fought all through that, Evelyn," he said, absently. "It was my first impulse—I confess it. The thought of being associated with such men sickened me; I despaired; I wished they had never been found out, and that I had been let blindly go on to the end. Well, I got over the fit—with a struggle. It was not reasonable, after all. Surely one's belief in the future of the Society ought to be all the firmer that these black sheep have been thrust out? As for myself, at all events, I ought to have more hope, not less. I never did trust Lind, as you know; I believed in his work, in the usefulness of it, and the prospects of its success; but I never was at ease in his presence; I was glad to get away to my own work in the north. And now, with the way clearer, why should one think of giving up? To tell you the truth, Evelyn, I would give anything to be in America at the present moment, if only Natalie and her mother were in safety. There is a chance for us there bigger than anything Lind ever dreamed about. You know the Granges, the associations of the 'Patrons of Husbandry,' that were founded by the Scotchman Saunders? It is an immense social organization; the success of it has been quite unprecedented; they have an immense power in their hands. And it isn't only agriculture they deal with; they touch on politics here and there; they control elections; and the men they choose are invariably men of integrity. Well, now, don't you see this splendid instrument ready-made? From what I hear from Philadelphia—"
Lord Evelyn's thoughts were elsewhere than in Philadelphia.
"You must tell me about yourself, Brand!" he exclaimed. "Your life is no longer in danger, then? How has it happened?"
"Oh," said Brand, somewhat carelessly, "I don't know all the particulars as yet. What I do know is that Natalie and her mother disappeared from London; I had no idea whither they had gone. Then Calabressa turned up; and I heard that Natalie had appealed to the Council. Fancy, she, a young girl, had had the courage to go and appeal to the Council! Then Calabressa suspected something, I saw by his questions; then Lind, Beratinsky, and Reitzei appear to have been summoned to Naples. The result is in that letter; that is about all I know."
"And these others in there?" said Lord Evelyn, glancing to the door.
"They know nothing at all. That is what I am uncertain about: whether to leave the disappearance of Lind unaccounted for—merely saying he had been summoned away by the Council—or to let everybody who may hear of it understand that, powerful as he was, he had to succumb to the laws of the Society, and accept the penalty for his error. I am quite uncertain; I have no instructions. You might find out for me in Naples, Evelyn, if you went over there—you might find out what they consider advisable."
"You are in Lind's place, then?"
"Not at all," said he, quickly, and with a slight flush. "Edwards and I are merely keeping the thing going until matters are settled. Did you notice whether Molyneux was in the next room when you came through?"
"Yes he was."
"Then excuse me for a minute or two. I want to speak to you further about Naples."
Brand was gone some time, and Lord Evelyn was left to ponder over these strange tidings. To him they were very joyful tidings; for ever since that communication was made to him of the danger that threatened his friend's life, he had been haunted by the recollection that, but for him, Brand would in all probability have never heard of this association. It was with an infinite sense of personal relief that he now knew this danger was past. Already he saw himself on his way to Naples, to find out the noble girl who had taken so bold a step to save her lover. Not yet had darkness fallen over these two lives.
Brand returned, carefully shut the door after him, and seated himself on a corner of the table.
"You see, Evelyn," he said, quite in his old matter-of-fact way, "I can't pretend to have very much regret over what has happened to Lind. He tried to do me an ill turn, and he has got the worst of it; that is all. On the other hand, I bear him no malice: you don't want to hurt a man when he is down. I can guess that it isn't the death-penalty that he is thinking most of now. I can even make some excuse for him, now that I see the story plain. The temptation was great; always on the understanding that he was against my marrying his daughter; and that I had been sure of it for some time. To punish me for not giving up my property, to keep Natalie to himself, and to get this difficult duty securely undertaken all at once—it was worth while trying for. But his way of going about it was shabby. It was a mean trick. Well, there is nothing more to be said on that point: he has played—played a foul game—and lost."
He added, directly afterward,
"So you think you can go to Naples?"
"Certainly," said Evelyn, with promptness. "You don't know how glad I am about this, Brand. If you had come to grief over your relations with this Society, it would have been like a mill-stone hanging on my conscience all my life. And I shall be delighted to go to Italy for you. I should like to see the look on Natalie's face."
"You will probably find her in great trouble," Brand said, gravely.
"Naturally. Don't you see, Evelyn, she could not have foreseen that the result of her appeal would involve the destruction of her father. It is impossible to believe that she could have foreseen that. I know her; she would not have stirred hand or foot. And now that this has been discovered, it is not her father's guilt she will be thinking of; it is his fate, brought about indirectly by herself. You may be sure, Evelyn, she will not be overjoyed at the present moment. All the more reason why one who knows her should be near her. I have no idea what sort of people are about her; I should be more satisfied if I knew you were there."
"I am ready to go; I am ready to start this afternoon, as I say," Evelyn repeated; but then he added, with some hesitation: "But I am not going to play the part of a hypocrite, Brand. I could not pretend to sympathize with her, if that is the cause of her trouble; I should tell her it served her father right."
"You could not be so brutal if you tried, Evelyn," Brand said; "you might think so: you could not tell her so. But I have no fear: you will be discreet enough, and delicate enough, when you see her."
"And what am I to say from you?"
"From me?" he said. "Oh, you can say I thank her for having saved my life. That will be enough, I think; she will understand the rest."
"I mean, what do you advise her to do? Ought they to return to England?"
"I think so, certainly. Most likely she will be waiting there, trying to get the Council to reverse the sentence. Having been successful in the one case, the poor child may think she ought to succeed in the other. I fear that is too much to expect. However, if she is anxious, she may try. I should like to know there was somebody near her she could rely on—don't you understand, Evelyn?—to see that she is situated and treated as you would like one of your own sisters to be."
"I see what it is, Brand," Lord Evelyn said, laughing, "you are jealous of the foreigners. You think they will be using tooth-picks in her presence, and that kind of thing."
"I wish to know that she and her mother are in a good hotel," said Brand, simply, "with proper rooms, and attendance, and—and a carriage: women can't go walking through these beastly streets of Naples. The long and short of it is, Evelyn," he added, with some embarrassment, as he took out from his pocket-book two blank checks, and sat down at the table and signed them, "I want you to play the part of big brother to them, don't you know? And you will have to exercise skill as well as force. Don't you see, Calabressa is the best of fellows; but he would think nothing of taking them to stay in some vile restaurant, if the proprietor were politically inclined—"
"Yes, yes; I see: garlic; cigarettes during breakfast, right opposite the ladies; wine-glasses used as finger-glasses: well, you are a thorough Englishman, Brand!"
"I suppose, when your sisters go abroad, you see that they are directed to a proper hotel?" said Brand, somewhat angrily.
"I know this," said Evelyn, laughing, "that my sisters, and you, and Calabressa, and myself, all boiled together, wouldn't make half as good a traveller as Natalie Lind is. Don't you believe she has been led away into any slummy place, for the sake of politics or anything else. I will bet she knows the best hotels in Naples as well as you do the Waldegrave Club."
"At any rate, you've got to play the big brother, Evelyn; and it is my affair, of course: I will not allow you to be out of pocket by it. Here are two checks; you can fill them in over there when you see how matters stand: ——, at Rome, will cash them."
"Do you mean to say I have to pay their hotel-bills?"
"If they have plenty of money, certainly not; but you must find out. You must take the bull by the horns. It is far more likely that they have so little money that they may be becoming anxious. Then you must use a firm hand—I mean with Natalie. Her mother will acquiesce. And you can tell Natalie that if she would buy something—some dress, or something—for the mother of old Calabressa, who is still living—at Spezia, I think—she would make the old chap glad. And that would be a mark of my gratitude also; you see, I have never had even the chance of thanking him as yet."
Lord Evelyn rose.
"Very well," said he, "I will send you a report of my mission. How am I to find them?"
"You must find them through Calabressa," he said, "for I have not got their address. So you can start this evening?"
"Then I will telegraph at once to Calabressa to let them know you are coming. Mind you, I am very grateful to you, Evelyn; though I wish I was going in your stead."
Lord Evelyn got some further instructions as to how he was to discover Calabressa on his arrival in Naples; and that evening he began his journey to the south. He set out, indeed, with a light heart. He knew that Natalie would be glad to have a message from England.
At Genoa he had to break the journey for a day, having some commission to perform on behalf of the Society: this was a parting bequest from Gathorne Edwards. Then on again; and in due time he entered Naples.
He scarcely noticed, as he entered the vehicle and drove away to his hotel, what bare-footed lads outside the station were bawling as they offered the afternoon papers to the newly-arrived passengers. What interest had he in Zaccatelli?
But what the news-venders were calling aloud was this:
"The death of the Cardinal Zaccatelli! Death of Zaccatelli! The death of the Cardinal Zaccatelli!"
"Natalushka," said the tender and anxious mother, laying her hand on the girl's head, "you must bestir yourself. If you let grief eat into your heart like that, you will become ill; and what shall we do then, in a strange hotel? You must bestir yourself; and put away those sad thoughts of yours. I can only tell you again and again that it was none of your doing. It was the act of the Council: how could you help it? And how can you help it now? My old friend Stefan says it is beyond recall. Come, Natalushka, you must not blame yourself; it is the Council, not you, who have done this; and no doubt they think they acted justly."
Natalie did not answer. She sighed slightly. Her eyes were turned toward the blue waters beyond the Castello dell' Ovo.
"Child," the mother continued, "we must leave Naples."
"Leave Naples!" the girl cried, with a sudden look of alarm; "having done nothing—having tried nothing?" Then she added, in a lower voice, "Well, yes, mother, I suppose it is true what they say, that one can do nothing by remaining. Perhaps—perhaps we ought to go; and yet it is terrible."
She shivered slightly as she spoke.
"You see, Natalushka," her mother said, determined to distract her attention somehow, "this is an expensive hotel; we must be thinking of what money we have left to take us back. We have been here some time; and it is a costly journey, all the way to England."
"Oh, but not to England—not to England, mother!" Natalie exclaimed, quickly.
"Why not to England, then?"
"Anywhere else, mother," the daughter pleaded. If you wish it, we will go away: no doubt General von Zoesch knows best; there is no hope. We will go away from Naples, mother; and—and you know I shall not be much of a tax on you. We will live cheaply somewhere; and perhaps I could help a little by teaching music, as Madame Potecki does. Whenever you wish it, I am ready to go."
"But why not to England?"
"I cannot tell you, mother."
She rose quickly, and passed into her own room and shut the door.
There she stood for a second or two, irresolute and breathless, like one who had just escaped into a place of refuge. Then her eyes fell on her writing desk, which was on a side-table, and open. Slowly, and with a strange, pained expression about her mouth, she went and sat down, and took out some writing materials, and absently and mechanically arranged them before her. Her eyes were tearless, but once or twice she sighed deeply. After a time she began to write with an unsteady hand:
"My Dearest,—You must let me send you a few lines of farewell; for it would be hard if, in saying good-bye, one were not permitted to say a kind word or two that could be remembered afterward. And your heart will have already told you why it is not for you and me now to look forward to the happiness that once seemed to lie before us. You know what a terrible result has followed from my rashness; but then you are free—that is something; for the rest, perhaps it is less misery to die, than to live and know that you have caused another's death. You remember, the night they played Fidelio, I told you I should always try to remain worthy of your love; and how could I keep that promise if I permitted myself to think of enjoying a happiness that was made possible at the cost of my father's life? You could not marry a woman so unnatural, so horrible: a marriage purchased at such a price would be foredoomed; there would be a guilty consciousness, a life-long remorse. But why do I speak? Your heart tells you the same thing. There only remains for us to say good-bye, and to thank God for the gleam of happiness that shone on us for a little time.
"And you, my dearest of friends, you will send me also a little message, that I can treasure as a remembrance of bygone days. And you must tell me also whether what has occurred has deterred you from going farther, or whether you still remain hoping for better things in the world, and resolved to do what you can to bring them about. That would be a great consolation to me, to know that your life still had a noble object. Then the world would not be quite blank, either for you or for me; you with your work, I with this poor, kind mother of mine, who needs all the affection I can give her. Then I hope to hear of you from time to time; but my mother and myself do not return to England.
"And now what am I to say, being so far away from you, that will sound pleasant to you, and that you will remember after with kindness? I look back now over the time since I have known you, and it appears a beautiful dream—anxious sometimes, and troubled, but always with a golden future before it that almost bewildered the eyes. And what am I to say of your goodness, so unvarying and constant; and your thoughtfulness; and your great unselfishness and outspokenness? When was there the least misunderstanding between us? I could read your heart like my own. Only once, you remember, was there a chance of a shadow coming between us—through my own folly; and yet perhaps it was only natural for a girl, fancying that everything was going to be smooth and happy in her life, to look back on what she had said in times of trouble, and to be afraid of having spoken with too little reserve. But then you refused to have even the slightest lovers' quarrel; you laughed away my folly. Do you wonder if I was more than ever glad that I had given my life into your wise and generous guidance? And it is not now, when I am speaking to you for the last time, that I can regret having let you know what my feelings were toward you. Oh, my darling! you must not imagine, because these words that I am writing are cold and formal, that my heart beats any the less quickly when I think of you and the days we were together. I said to you that I loved you; I say to you now that I love you with my whole heart, and I have no feeling of shame. If you were here, I would look into your face and repeat it—I think without a blush; I would kiss you; I would tell you that I honor you; that I had looked forward to giving you all the trust and affection and devotion of a wife. That is because I have faith in you; my soul is open and clear to you; read, and if you can find there anything but admiration for your nobleness of heart, and earnest hopes for your happiness, and gratitude to you for all your kindness, then, and not otherwise, shall I have cause for shame.
"Now I have to send you my last word of good-bye—"
[She had borne up so far; but now she put the pen aside, and bent her head down on to her hands, and her frame was shaken with her sobbing. When she resumed, she could scarcely see for the bitter tears that kept welling her eyes.]
"—and you think, looking at these cold words on the paper, that it was easy for me to do so. It has not been so easy. I pray God to bless you, and keep you brave and true and unselfish, and give you happiness in the success of your work. And I ask a line from you in reply—not sad, but something that I may look at from time to time, and that will make me believe you have plenty of interests and hopes in the world, and that you do not altogether regret that you and I met, and were friends, for a time.
This was a strange thing: she took another sheet of paper, and slowly and with a trembling hand wrote on it these words, "Your Wife." That was all. No doubt it was the signature she had hoped one day to use. She regarded it long, and earnestly, and sadly, until, indeed, she could not see it for the tears that rose afresh into her eyes. Then she tore up the piece of paper hastily, folded her letter and addressed it, without sealing the envelope, and carried it into the other room.
"Read it mother," she said; and she turned to the window to conceal her tear-stained face.
The mother opened the letter and glanced at it.
"You forget, child," she said. "I know so little English. Tell me what it is you have written."
So she was forced to turn; and apparently, as she spoke, she was quite calm; but there was a darkness underneath her eyes, and there was in her look something of the worn, sad expression of her mother's face. Briefly and simply she repeated the substance of the letter, giving no reasons or justifications. She seemed to take it for granted that her decision was unavoidable, and would be seen to be so by every one.
"Natalushka," the mother said, looking anxiously at the troubled face, "do you know what you are about to do? It is an act of expiation for something you have not committed."
"Could I do otherwise?" she said. "You, mother: would you have me think of a marriage procured through my father's death? It is too horrible!"
The mother went to her, and took her two hands.
"My poor child, are you to have no happier life than I have had, after all? When I used to see you, I used to say to myself, 'Ah, my little Natalushka will never know what has befallen me—she will have a happy life!' I could see you laughing as you walked in the gardens there. You looked so pleased, so content, so bright and cheerful. And now you also are to have a life of disappointment and sad memories—"
"Oh, you must not talk like that, mother," the girl said, hastily, in a low voice. "Have I not you with me? We shall always be together, shall we not? And you know we shall not have time for brooding over what is past; we shall have much to do; we must make a pleasant small home somewhere. Oh, there are many, many people far worse off in the world than we are. So you must think of getting away from Naples, mother; and think of where you would like to live, and where I should be most likely to be able to earn a little. The years will teach us to forget—and—and—And now you know why I do not wish to go back to England."
Her eyes were cast down, but she was forcing herself to speak quite cheerfully.
"You see, mother, my knowing English is a great advantage. If we were to go to one of the towns on the Riviera, like Nice or Mentone, where so many English families are, one might get pupils who would want to learn English songs as well as Italian and German—"
"Yes, yes, Natalushka; but I am not going to have you slave for me. The little allowance that my cousins send me will do very well for us two, though you will not get so fine dresses. Then, you see, Natalushka, Mentone or Nice would be a dear place to live in."
"Very well, mother," said the girl, with the same apparent cheerfulness, "I will go down and post my letter, and at the same time get the loan of a guide book. Then we shall study the maps, and pick out a nice, quiet, remote little place, where we can live—and forget."
The last two words were uttered to herself as she opened the door and went out. She sighed a little as she went down the staircase—that was all; she was thinking of things very far away. She passed into the hall, and went to the bureau for some postage-stamps. As she stood there, some one, unperceived, came up to her: it was Calabressa.
"Little daughter," said he, in a trembling voice.
She uttered a slight cry, and shrunk back.
"Little daughter," said he, holding out his hand.
But some strange instinct possessed her. She could not avoid touching his hand—or the tips of his fingers, rather—for one brief second; then she turned away from him with an involuntary shudder, and went back through the hall, her head bent down. Calabressa stood looking after her for a moment or two, then he turned and left the hotel.
He walked quickly: there were tears running down his face. He looked neither to the right nor to the left; he was talking in a broken voice to himself; he repeated again and again, "No, she shall not turn away from me. She will be sorry for that soon. She will say she should not have crushed the heart of her old friend Calabressa."
He walked out to Posilipo. Near the villa where he had formerly sought the representatives of the Council he passed an old woman who was selling fruit by the roadside. She glanced up at him, and said,
"The door is closed, signore."
"The door must be opened, good mother," said he, scarcely regarding her as he hurried on.
Arrived in the garden of the villa, his summons brought out to the entrance of the grotto the Secretary Granaglia, who somewhat impatiently told him that it was quite impossible that any member of the Council should see him.
"And no doubt it is about that Lind affair?"
"Indirectly only," Calabressa said. "No, it concerns myself mostly."
"Quite enough time, the Council think, has been given to the Lind affair. I can tell you, my friend, there are more important matters stirring. Now, farewell; I am wanted within."
However, by dint of much persuasion, Calabressa got Granaglia to take in a message to Von Zoesch. And, sure enough, his anticipations were correct; the good-natured, bluff old soldier made his appearance, and seemed glad to get a breath of fresh air for a minute or two.
"Well, well, Calabressa, what is it now? Are you not all satisfied? the young lady with her sweetheart, and all that? You rogue! you guessed pretty rightly; to tell them the news was no light matter; but by-and-by she will become reconciled. Her lover is to be envied; she is a beautiful child, and she has courage. Well, are they not satisfied?"
"I crave your pardon, Excellency, for intruding upon you," Calabressa said, in a sort of constrained voice. "It is my own affair that brings me here. I shall not waste your time. Your Excellency, I claim to be substitute for Ferdinand Lind."
The tall soldier burst out laughing.
"What the devil is the matter with you, Calabressa; have you gone mad?"
For a second Calabressa stood silent; his eyes downcast; his fingers working nervously with the cap he held in his hands.
"Your Excellency," he said, as if struggling to repress some emotion, "it is a simple matter. I have been to see the beautiful child you speak of; I addressed her, in the hall of the hotel; she turned away from me, shuddering, as if I were a murderer—from me, who loves her more than I love life. Oh, your Excellency, do not smile at it; it is not a girlish caprice; she has a noble heart; it is not a little thing that would make her cruel. I know what she thinks—that I have been the means of procuring her father's death. Be it so. I will give her father his life again. Take mine—what do I care?"