"Nonsense, nonsense, my Calabressa. The girl has bewitched you. One must talk to her. Take your life in exchange for that of Lind? Pooh! We cannot send good men after bad; you are too valuable to us; whereas he, if he were released, could be of no more use at all. It is a generous notion on your part, friend Calabressa, but it is quixotic; moreover, impossible."
"You forget, Excellency, that I can claim it," said Calabressa, firmly. "Under Article V. I can claim to be the substitute of Ferdinand Lind. Your Excellency yourself has not the power to refuse me. I call upon you to release Lind from the death-penalty: to-morrow I will take his place; then you can send a message to—to Natalie Berezolyi's daughter, that, if I have wronged her, I have made amends."
Von Zoesch grew more serious; he eyed Calabressa curiously. The elder man stood there trembling a little with nervous excitement, but with a firm look on his face: there was no doubt about his resolve.
"Friend Calabressa," said Von Zoesch, in a kindly way, "it seems as if you had transferred your old love for Natalie Berezolyi to Natalie's daughter, only with double intensity; but, you see, we must not allow you to sacrifice yourself merely because a girl turns her heel on you. It is not to be thought of. We cannot afford to lose you; besides, it is monstrous that the innocent should suffer, and the guilty go free—"
"The articles of the Society, your Excellency—"
"That particular article, my Calabressa, was framed with a view to encourage self-sacrifice and generosity, no doubt, but not with a view, surely, to any such extreme madness as this. No. The fact is, I had no time to explain the circumstances of the case to the young lady, or I could easily have shown her how you were no more involved than herself in procuring the decree against her father. To-day I cannot; to-morrow I cannot; the day after to-morrow, I solemnly assure you, I will see her, and reason with her, and convince her that you have acted throughout as her best friend only could have done. You are too sensitive, my Calabressa: ah, is it not the old romance recalled that is making you so? But this I promise you, that she shall beg your pardon for having turned away from you."
"Then," said Calabressa, with a little touch of indignant pride, "then your Excellency imagines that it is my vanity that has been wounded?"
"No; it is your heart. And she will be sorry for having pained a true friend: is not that as it should be? Why, your proposal, if she agreed to it, what would be the result? You would stab her with remorse. For this momentary slight you would say, 'See, I have killed myself. Learn now that Calabressa loved you.' But that would be very like revenge, my Calabressa; and you ought not to think of taking revenge on the daughter of Natalie Berezolyi."
Calabressa was about to protest: but he was stopped.
"Leave it to me, my friend. The day after to-morrow we shall have more leisure. Meanwhile, no more thoughts of quixotism. Addio!"
It would be difficult to say whether Calabressa was altogether sincere in claiming to become the substitute for Ferdinand Lind, or whether he was not practising a little self-deception, and pacifying his wounded pride and affection by this outburst of generosity, while secretly conscious that his offer would not be accepted. However, what Calabressa had declared himself ready to do, in a fit of wild sentimentalism, another had already done, in terrible earnest. A useless life had suddenly become ennobled by a tragic and self-sacrificing death.
Two days after Lord Evelyn left for Naples, Brand and Gathorne Edwards were as usual in the chambers in Lisle Street, and, the business of the morning being mostly over, they were chatting together. There was a brighter look on George Brand's face than there had been there for many a day.
"What an indefatigable fellow that Molyneux is!" Edwards was saying.
"It is a good thing some one can do something," Brand answered. "As for me, I can't settle down to anything. I feel as if I had been living on laughing-gas these last two days. I feel as if I had come alive again into another world, and was a little bit bewildered just as yet. However, I suppose we shall get shaken into our new positions by-and-by; and the sooner they let us know their final arrangements the better."
"As for me," said Edwards, carelessly, "now that I have left the Museum I don't care where I may have to go."
At this moment a note was brought in by the old German, and handed to Edwards. He glanced at the straggling, almost illegible, address in pencil on the dirty envelope.
"Well, this is too bad," he said, impatiently.
"What is it?"
"That fellow Kirski. He is off again. I can see by his writing. He never was very good at it; but this is the handwriting of delirium tremens."
He opened the letter, and glanced at the first page.
"Oh yes," he said, in disgust, "he's off again, clearly."
"What does he say?"
"The usual rigmarole—only not quite so legible. The beautiful angel who was so kind to him—he has taken her portrait from its hiding-place—it is sacred now—no more public house—well, it looks rather as if he had been to several."
At this point, however, Edwards's pale, high forehead flushed a little.
"I wish I had not told him; but he speaks of Miss Lind being in trouble—and he says God never meant one so beautiful and kind as she to be in trouble—and if her father—"
His face grew grave.
"What is this?"
He turned the leaf suddenly, and glanced at the remainder of the letter.
"Good God! what does the man mean? What has he done?" he exclaimed.
His face was quite pale. The letter dropped from his hands. Then he jumped to his feet.
"Come, Brand—quick—quick!" he said, hurriedly. "You must come with me—"
"But what is the matter?" Brand said, following him in amazement.
"I don't know," said Edwards, almost incoherently. "He may be raving—it may only be drunkenness—but he says he is about to kill himself in place of Lind: the young lady shall not be troubled—she was kind to him, and he is grateful. I am to send her a message."
By this time the two friends were hurrying to the dingy little thoroughfare in which Kirski had his lodgings.
"Don't alarm yourself, Edwards," said Brand; "he has broken out again, that is all."
"I am not so sure. He was at his work yesterday, and sober enough."
"His brain may have given way, then; it was never very strong. But these continual ravings about murder or suicide are dangerous; they will develop into homicidal mania, most likely; and if he cannot get at his enemy Michaieloff he may do a mischief to somebody else."
"I hope he has not done a mischief to himself already," said Edwards, who had had more opportunities than his companion of studying the workings of Kirski's disordered brain.
They reached the house and knocked at the door. The landlady made her appearance.
"Is Kirski in the house?" Edwards asked, eagerly.
"No, he ain't," she said, with but scant courtesy.
"Thank God!" he exclaimed, in great relief. "You are sure? He went out to his work as usual?"
"How should I know?" said the woman, who was evidently not on good terms with her lodger.
"He had his breakfast as usual?"
"His breakfast!" she said scornfully. "No, he hadn't. He may pick up his breakfast about the streets, like a cat; but he don't have any 'ere. And a cat he is, sneaking up and down the stairs: how do I know whether he is in the house or whether he ain't?"
At this Edwards turned pale again with a sudden fear. Brand interposed.
"You don't know? Then show us his room; we will see for ourselves."
He passed the woman, leaving her to shut the door, and went into the small dark passage, waiting for her at the foot of the stairs. Grumbling to herself, she came along to show them the way. It did not pay her to waste her time like this, she said, for a lodger who took no food in the house, and spent his earnings in the gin-shop. She should not be surprised if they were to find him asleep at that time of the day. He had ways like a cat.
The landing they reached was as dark as the staircase; so that when she turned a handle and flung a door open there was a sudden glare of light. At the same moment she uttered a shrill scream, and retreated backward. She had caught a glimpse of some horrible thing—she hardly knew what. It was the body of the man Kirski lying prone upon the uncarpeted floor, his hands clinched. There was a dark pool of blood beside him.
Edwards sunk shuddering into a chair, sick and faint. He could neither move nor speak; he dared hardly look at the object lying there in the wan light. But Brand went quickly forward, and took hold of one of these clinched hands. It was quite cold. He tried to turn over the body, but relinquished that effort. The cause of death was obvious enough. Kirski had stabbed himself with one of the tools used in his trade; either he had deliberately lain down on the floor to make sure of driving the weapon home, or he had accidentally fallen so after dealing himself the fatal blow. Apparently he had been dead for some hours.
Brand rose. The landlady at the door was alternately screaming and sobbing; declaring that she was ruined; that not another lodger would come to her house.
"Be quiet, woman, and send to the police-station at once," Brand said. "Wait a moment: when did you last see this man?"
"This morning, sir—early this morning, sir," said she, in a profusion of tears over her prospective loss. "He came down-stairs with a letter in his hand, and there was twopence for my little boy to take it when he came home from school. How should I know he had gone back, sir, to make away with himself like that, and ruin a poor widow woman, sir?"
"Have you a servant in the house?"
"No sir; no one but myself—and me dependent—"
"Then go at once to the police-station, and tell the inspector on duty what has happened. You can do that, can't you? You will do no good by standing crying there, or getting the neighbors in. I will stop here till you come back."
She went away, leaving Brand and his paralyzed companion with this ghastly object lying prone on the floor.
"Poor devil!" Brand said; "his troubles are at an end now. I wonder whether I should lift him on to the bed, or wait until they come."
Then another thought struck him: and he turned quickly to his companion, who sat there horrified and helpless.
"Edwards," said he, "you must pull yourself together. The police will ask you what you know about this affair. Then you will have to give evidence before the coroner's inquest. There is nothing material for you to conceal; but still, no mention must be made of Lisle Street, do you understand?"
Edwards nodded. His face was of a ghastly white. Then he rose and said,
"Let us go somewhere else, Brand."
His companion took him down-stairs into the landlady's parlor, and got him a glass of water. Apparently there was not a human being in the house but themselves.
"Do you understand, Edwards? Give your private address—not Lisle Street. Then you can tell the story simply enough: that unfortunate fellow came all the way from Russia—virtually a maniac—you can tell them his story if you like; or shall I?"
"Yes, yes. It has been too much for me, Brand. You see, I had no business to tell him about Lind—"
"The poor wretch would have ended his days miserably anyhow, no doubt in a mad-house, and probably after killing some quite innocent person. By-the-way, they will ask you how you came to suspect. Where is that letter?"
Edwards took it from his pocket.
"Tear it up."
He did so; but Brand took the fragments and put them in his own pocket.
"You can tell them he wrote to you, and from the madness of the letter you thought something was wrong. You destroyed the letter. But where is Natalie's portrait?—that must not fall into their hands."
He instantly went up-stairs again, leaving his companion alone. There was something strange in his entering this room where the corpse lay; it seemed necessary for him to walk on tiptoe: he uncovered his head. A glance round the almost empty room speedily showed him what he wanted; there was a small wooden casket in a dusky corner by the window, and that, he made no doubt, was the box the unhappy Kirski had made to contain Natalie's portrait, and that he had quite recently dug out from its place of concealment. Brand was surprised, however, to find the casket empty. Then he glanced at the fireplace; there was a little dust there, as of burnt card-board. Then he made sure that Kirski himself had taken steps to prevent the portrait falling into alien hands.
Beside the box, however, lay a piece of paper, written over in pencil. He took it up and made out it was chiefly ill-spelled Italian: "Whatever punishment may be decreed against any Officer, Companion, or Friend of the Society, may be vicariously borne by any other Officer, Companion, or Friend, who, of his own full and free consent, acts as substitute—the original offender becoming thereby redeemed, acquitted, and released." Then followed some words which he could not make out at all.
He carried the paper down-stairs.
"He appears to have burnt the photograph, Edwards; but he has left this—see."
Edwards glanced at the trembling scrawl with a slight shiver; the handwriting was the same as that he had received half an hour before.
"It is only Article V.," he said. "The poor fellow used to keep repeating that, after Calabressa and I taught him in Venice."
"But what is written below?"
Edwards forced himself to take the paper in his hands, and to scan more carefully its contents.
"It is Russian," he said, "but so badly written. 'My life is not endurable longer, but I shall die happy in being of service to the beautiful angel who was kind to me. Tell her she need not be in trouble any more. I forgive Pavel Michaieloff, as my masters desire. I do not wish my wife or my neighbors to know what I have done.'"
"This we have no right to meddle with," Brand said, thoughtfully. "I will put it back where I got it. But you see, Edwards, you will have to admit that you were aware this poor wretch was in communication with some secret society or other. Further than that you need say nothing. The cause of his suicide is clear enough; the man was mad when he came to England with that wild craving for revenge in his brain."
Brand carried the paper up-stairs again, and placed it where he had found it. At the same moment there was a sound of footsteps below; and presently the police-officers, accompanied by the landlady and by Gathorne Edwards, who had somewhat recovered his composure, entered to hold their preliminary investigation. The notes that the inspector took down in his pocket-book were brief enough, and were mostly answers to questions addressed to Brand, regarding what he knew of the deceased man's circumstances. The police-surgeon had meanwhile had the body placed on the bed; he also was of opinion that the man had been dead some hours. Edwards translated for the inspector the writing on the paper found lying there, and said he believed Kirski had some connection with a secret society, but that it was obvious he had destroyed himself from despair; and that, indeed, the unhappy man had never been properly right in his mind since ever he had known him, though they had hoped, by getting him to do steady work and sure wages, to wean him away from brooding over the wrongs that had driven him from his native country. Edwards gave the officer his address, Brand saying that he had to leave England that same night, and would not be available for any further inquiry, but that his friend knew precisely as much about the case as himself. Then he and his companion left.
Edwards breathed more freely when he got out of the house, even into the murky atmosphere of Soho.
"It is a tragic end," he said, "but perhaps it is the best that could have befallen him. I called yesterday at the shop, and found he was there, and sober, though I did not see him. I was surprised to find he had gone back."
"I thought he had solemnly promised you not to drink any more," Brand said.
"He had made the same promises before. He took to drink merely to forget—to drown this thing that was working in his brain. If he had lived, it would have been the old story over again. He would have buried the portrait in St. James's Park, as he did before, gone back to the gin-shop, and in course of time drank himself to death. This end is terrible enough, but there is a touch of something fine about it—it redeems much. What a worship the poor fellow had for Miss Lind, to be sure; because she was kind to him when he was half mad with his wrongs. I remember he used to go about the churches in Venice to see if any of the saints in the pictures were like her, but none satisfied him. You will send her a message of what he has done to repay her at last?"
"I will take it myself," said Brand, hastily. "I must go, Edwards. You must get —— or —— to come to these chambers—any one you may think of. I must go myself, and at once."
"Yes, to-night. It is a pity I troubled Evelyn to go."
"He would stay a day, perhaps two days, in Genoa. It is just possible you might overtake him by going straight through."
"Yes," said Brand, with a strange smile on his face, as if he were looking at something far away, and it was scarcely to his companion that he spoke, "I think I will go straight through. I should not like any one but myself to take Natalie this news."
They walked back to the chambers, and Brand began to put things in order for his going.
"It is rather a shame," he said, during this business, "for one to be glad that this poor wretch has come to such an end; but what better could have happened to him, as you say? You will see about a decent funeral, Edwards; and I will leave you something to stop the mouth of that caterwauling landlady. You can tell them at the inquest that he has no relations in this country."
By-and-by he said,
"If there are any debts, I will pay them; and if no one has any objection I should like to have that casket, to show to—to Miss Lind. Did you see the carving on it?"
"I looked at it."
"He must have spent many a night working at that. Poor wretch, I wish I had looked after him more, and done more for him. One always feels that when people are dead, and it is too late."
"I don't see how you could have done more for him," Edwards said, honestly enough: though indeed it was he himself who had been Kirski's chief protector of late.
Before evening came Brand had put affairs in proper trim for his departure, and he left London with a lighter heart than had been his for a long time. But ever and anon, as he journeyed to the south, with a wonderful picture of joy and happiness before him, his mind would wander away back to the little room in Soho, and he could see the unhappy Russian lying dead, with the message left behind for the beautiful angel who had been kind to him; and he could not but think that Kirski would have died happier if he had known that Natalie herself would come some day and put flowers, tenderly and perhaps even with tears, on his grave. Who that knew her could doubt but that that would be her first act on returning to England? At least, Brand thought so.
It was about five in the morning, and as yet dark, when George Brand arrived in Naples. He wrote a note asking Calabressa to call on him, and left it to be despatched by the porter of the hotel; then he lay down for an hour or two, without undressing, for he was somewhat fatigued with his continuous travelling.
On going down to breakfast he got Calabressa's answer, saying he was very sorry he could not obey the commands of his dear friend Monsieur Brand, because he was on duty; but that he could be found, if Monsieur Brand would have the goodness to seek out the wine-vaults of one Tommaso, in the Vicolo Isotta. There, also, Monsieur Brand would see some others.
Accordingly, after breakfast Brand set out, leisurely and observantly, for he did not think there was any great hurry. It was a beautiful, brisk, breezy morning, though occasionally a squall of rain swept across the roughened sea, blotting out Capri altogether. There were crisp gleams of white on the far plain, and there was a dazzling mist of sunlight and sea-foam where the waves sprung high on the rocks of the citadel; and even here in the busy streets there was a fresh sea-odor as the gusts of the damp wind blew along. Naples was alive and busy, but Brand regarded this swarming population with but little interest. He knew that none of his friends would be out and abroad so early.
In due time he found out the gloomy little court and the wine-vaults. Moreover, he had no trouble with the ghoul-like Tommaso, who had apparently received his instructions. No sooner had Brand inquired for Calabressa than he was invited to follow his guide, who waddled along, candle in hand, like some over-grown orang-outang. At length they reached the staircase, where there was a little more light, and here he found Calabressa waiting to receive him. Calabressa seemed overjoyed.
"Yes, yes, my dear Monsieur Brand, you have arrived opportunely. You also will remonstrate with that beautiful child for having fallen out with her old friend Calabressa. Think of it! one who would wear his knees out to serve her; and when I go to the hotel—"
"One word, Calabressa," said Brand, as he followed him into a small empty room. "Tell me, is Lind in Naples?"
"Assuredly. He has petitioned for a year's grace: he wishes to join the Montenegrins."
"He will have more than a year's grace," said Brand, gravely. "Something has happened. You remember the man Kirski? Well, he has killed himself to release Lind."
"Just Heaven!" Calabressa exclaimed; but the exclamation was one of astonishment, not in the least of regret. On the contrary, he began to speak in tones of exultation.
"Ah, let us hear now what the beautiful child will say! For who was it that reclaimed that savage animal, and taught him the beautifulness of self-sacrifice, and showed him how the most useless life could be made serviceable and noble? Who but I? He was my pupil: I first watched the light of virtue beginning to radiate through his savage nature. That is what I will ask the beautiful Natalushka when I see her. Perhaps she will not again turn away from an old friend—"
"You seem to forget, Calabressa, that your teaching has brought this man to his death," Brand said.
"Why not?" said Calabressa, with a perfectly honest stare. "Why not? Was it not well done? Was it not a fitting end? Why I, even I, who watched him long, did not expect to see that: his savagery falling away from him bit by bit; himself rising to this grand height, that he should give his life to save another: I tell you it is a beautiful thing; he has understood what I taught him; he has seen clear."
Calabressa was much excited, and very proud. It seemed to him that he had saved a soul as he remarked in his ornate French.
"Perhaps it has all happened for the best," Brand said; "perhaps it was the best that could have befallen that poor devil, too. But you are mistaken, Calabressa, about his reasons for giving up his life like that. It was not for the sake of a theory at all, admirable as your teachings may have been; it was for the sake of Natalie Lind. He heard she was in trouble, and he learned the cause of it. It was gratitude to her—it was love for her—that made him do this."
Calabressa changed his ground in an instant.
"Assuredly—assuredly, my dear friend: do you think I fail to understand that—I, who perceived that he worshipped that beautiful child as if she were a saint, and more than all the saints—do you think I cannot mark that—the sentiment of love, the fervor of worship, growing brighter and purer day by day until it burst into the beautiful flame of self-sacrifice? My faith! this must be told at once. Remain here a few moments, my dear Mr. Brand. This is news indeed."
"Wait a bit, Calabressa. I came to you to get the name of Natalie's hotel: and where is Lord Evelyn?"
"One moment—one moment," said the old albino, as he went out and shut the door behind him.
When Calabressa ceased to talk in French, he ceased to use roundabout literary sentimental metaphors; and his report, delivered in the next room, would appear to have been brief enough; for almost immediately he returned, accompanied by Von Zoesch, to whom Brand was introduced.
"I am honored in making your acquaintance," the tall soldier said, in a pleasant way. "I have heard much of you; you are a good worker; likewise you do not flinch when a duty is demanded of you. Perhaps, if you would only condescend to re-enforce the treasury sometimes, the Council would be still further grateful to you. However, we are not to become beggars at a first interview—and that a short one, necessarily—for to-day we start for Genoa."
"I am sorry for that," Brand said, simply. "There were some representations I wished to lay before the Council—some very serious representations."
"Perhaps some other time, then. In the meanwhile, our hands are full. And that reminds me that the news you bring makes one of my tasks to-day a pleasant one. Yes, I remember something of that maniac-fellow babbling about a saint and an angel—I heard of it. So it was your beautiful Miss Lind who was the saint and the angel? Well, do you know that I was about to give that young lady a very good scolding to-day?"
Brand flushed quickly. The authority of the Council had no terrors for him where Natalie was concerned.
"I beg to remind you," he said, respectfully but firmly, "that the fact of Miss Lind's father being connected with the Society gives no one the right to intermeddle in her private affairs—"
"Oh, but, my dear sir," said Von Zoesch laughing. "I have ample right. Her mother Natalie and I are very old friends indeed. You have not seen the charming young lady, then, since your arrival?"
"Excellent—excellent! You shall come and hear the scolding I have to give her. Oh, I assure you it will not harm her much. Calabressa will bring you along to the Villa Odelschalchi, eleven sharp. We must not keep a lady—two ladies, indeed—waiting, after making an appointment."
He rose from the plain wooden chair on which he had been sitting; and his visitor had to rise also. But Brand stood reluctant to go, and his brows were drawn down.
"I beg your pardon," said he, "but if you are so busy, why not depute some friend of the young lady to carry her a message? A girl is easily frightened."
"No, no, my dear sir; having made an appointment, must we not keep it? Come, I shall expect you to make one of the party; it will be a pleasant little comedy before we go to more serious matters. Au revoir!" He bowed slightly, and withdrew.
Some little time afterward Brand, Evelyn, and Calabressa were driving along the rough streets in an open carriage. The presence of Lord Evelyn had been a last concession obtained from General von Zoesch by Calabressa.
"Why not?" Von Zoesch had said, good-naturedly; "he is one of us. Besides, there is nothing of importance at Portici. It is a little family party; it is a little comedy before we go to Genoa."
As they rattled along, Lord Evelyn was very talkative and joyous. He had seen Natalie the evening before, within an hour after his arrival. He was laughing at Brand for fearing she might have been induced to go to some wretched inn.
"I myself, did I not say to you it was a beautiful hotel?" said Calabressa, with a hurt air. "The most beautiful view in Naples."
"I think, after what she will hear to-day," said Evelyn, "she ought to ask us to dine there. That would be an English way of finishing up all her trials and troubles." But he turned to Calabressa with a graver look. "What about Lind? Will they reinstate him now? Will they send him back to England?"
"Reinstate him in office?" said Calabressa, with a scornful smile. "My faith, no! Neither him nor Beratinsky. They will give them letters to Montenegro: isn't it enough?"
"Well, I think so. And Reitzei?"
"Reitzei has been stationed at Brindisi—one of our moral police; and lucky for him also."
When they arrived at the Villa Odelschalchi they were shown into a little anteroom where they found Granaglia, and he was introduced to the two strangers.
"Who have come?" Calabressa said, in a low voice.
The little sallow-faced Secretary smiled.
"Several Brothers of the Council," he said. "They wish to see this young lady who has turned so many heads. You, for example, my Calabressa, are mad with regard to her. Well, they pay her a compliment. It is the first time any woman has been in the presence of the Council."
At this moment Von Zoesch came in, and hastily threw aside his travelling-cloak.
"Come, my friends," said he, and he took them with him, leaving Granaglia to receive the ladies when they should arrive.
The lofty and spacious apartment they now entered, on the other side of the corridor, was apparently one of a suite of rooms facing the sea. Its walls were decorated in Pompeian fashion, with simulated trellis-work, and plenty of birds, beasts, and fishes about; but the massive curtains and spreading chandeliers were all covered over as if the house had not been inhabited for some time. All that was displayed of the furniture of the chambers were some chairs of blue satin, with white and gold backs and legs; and these looked strange enough, seeing that they were placed irregularly round an oblong, rough deal table, which looked as if it had just come from the workshop of some neighboring carpenter. At or near this table several men, nearly all elderly, were sitting, talking carelessly to each other; one of them, indeed, at the farthermost corner, was a venerable patriarch, who wore a large soft wide-awake over his snow-white hair. At the head of the table sat the handsome, pale-faced, Greek-looking man who has been mentioned as one Conventz. He was writing a letter, but stopped when Brand and Evelyn were introduced to him. Then Calabressa drew in some more of the gilt and blue chairs, and they sat down close by.
Brand kept anxiously looking toward the door. He had not long to wait. When it opened, Granaglia appeared, conducting into the room two figures dressed in black. These dark figures looked impressive in the great, white, empty room.
For a second Natalie stood bewildered and irresolute, seeing all these faces turned to her; and when her eyes fell on her lover, she turned deadly pale. But she went forward, along with her mother, to the two chairs brought for them by Granaglia, and they sat down. The mother was veiled. Natalie glanced at her lover again; there was a strange look in his face, but not of pain or fear.
"My dear young lady," said Von Zoesch, in his pleasantest way, "we have nothing but good news to communicate to you, so you must not be alarmed. You are among friends. We are going away to-day; we all wish to say good-bye to you, and wish you a happy journey back to England; that is all. But I will tell you that my first object in asking you to come here was to give you a good rating; when you and I should have been alone together I would have asked you if you had no consideration for old friends, that you should have turned away from my colleague, Calabressa, and wounded him grievously. I would have reminded you that it was not he, but you yourself, who put the machinery in motion which secured your father's righteous conviction."
"I ask you to spare me, signore," the girl said, in a low and trembling voice.
"Oh, I am not now going to scold you, my dear young lady. I intended to have done so. I intended to have shown you that you were wrong, and exceedingly ungrateful, and that you ought to ask pardon of my friend Calabressa. However, it is all changed. You need not fear him any more; you need not turn away from him. Your father is pardoned, and free!"
She looked up, uncertain, as if she had not heard aright.
"I repeat: your father is pardoned, and free. You shall learn how and why afterward. Meanwhile you have nothing before you, as I take it, but to reap the reward of your bravery."
She did not hear this last sentence. She had turned quickly to her mother.
"Mother, do you hear?" she said in a whisper.
"Yes, yes, child: thank God!"
"Now, you see, my dear young lady," Von Zoesch continued, "it is not a scolding, but good news I have given you; and nothing remains but that you should bid us good-bye, and say you are not sorry you appealed to us when you were in trouble, according to the advice of your good friend Calabressa. See, I have brought here with me a gentleman whom you know, and who will see you safe back to Naples, and to England; and another, his companion, who is also, I understand, an old friend of yours: you will have a pleasant party. Your father will be sent to join in a good cause, where he may retrieve his name if he chooses; you and your friends go back to England. So I may say that all your wishes are gratified at last, and we have nothing now but to say good-bye!"
The girl had been glancing timidly and nervously at the figures grouped round the table, and her breast was heaving. She rose; perhaps it was to enable herself to speak more freely; perhaps it was only out of deference to those seated there.
"No," she said, in a low voice, but it was heard clearly enough in the silence. "I—I would say a word to you—whom I may not see again. Yes, I thank you—from my heart; you have taken a great trouble away from my life. I—I thank you; but there is something I would say."
She paused for a second. She was very pale. She seemed to be nerving herself for some effort; and, strangely enough, her mother's hand, unseen, was stretched up to her, and she clasped it and held it tight. It gave her courage.
"It is true, I am only a girl; you are my elders, and you are men; but I have known good and brave men who were not ashamed to listen to what a woman thought was right; and it is as a woman that I speak to you," she said; and her voice, low and timid as it was, had a strange, pathetic vibration in it, that went to the heart. "I have suffered much of late. I hope no other woman will ever suffer in the same way."
Again she hesitated, but for the last time.
"Oh, gentlemen, you who are so powerful, you who profess to seek only mercy and justice and peace, why should you, also, follow the old, bad, cruel ways, and stain yourselves with blood? Surely it is not for you, the friends of the poor, the champions of the weak, the teachers of the people, to rely on the weapon of the assassin! When you go to the world, and seek for help and labor, surely you should go with clean hands—so that the wives and the sisters and the daughters of those who may join you may not have their lives made terrible to them. It is not a reign of terror you would establish on the earth! For the sake of those who have already joined you—for the sake of the far greater numbers who may yet be your associates—I implore you to abandon these secret and dreadful means. Surely, gentlemen, the blessing of Heaven is more likely to follow you and crown your work if you can say to every man whom you ask to join you, 'You have women-folk around you. They have tender consciences, perhaps; but we will ask of you nothing that your sister or your wife or your daughter would not approve.' Then good men will not be afraid of you; then brave men will not have to stifle their conscience in serving you; and whether you succeed or do not succeed, you will have walked in clear ways."
Her mother felt that she was trembling; but her voice did not tremble—beyond that pathetic thrill in it which was always there when she was deeply moved.
"I have to beg your pardon, sir," she said, addressing herself more particularly to Von Zoesch, but scarcely daring to lift her eyes. "But—but do not think that, when you have made everything smooth for a woman's happiness, she can then think only of herself. She also may think a little about others; and even with those who are nearest and dearest to her, how can she bear to know that perhaps they may be engaged in something dark and hidden, something terrible—not because it involves danger but because it involves shame? Gentlemen, if you choose, you can do this. I appeal to you. I implore you. If you do not seek the co-operation of women—well, that is a light matter; you have our sympathy and love and gratitude—at least you can pursue ways and means of which women can approve; ways and means of which no one, man or woman, needs be ashamed. How otherwise are you what you profess to be—the lovers of what is just and true and merciful?"
She sat down, still all trembling. She held her mother's hand. There was a murmur of sympathy and admiration.
Brand turned to Von Zoesch, and said, in a low voice,
"You hear, sir? These are the representations I had wished to lay before the Council. I have not a word to add."
"We will consider by-and-by," said Von Zoesch, rising. "It is not a great matter. Come to me in Genoa as you pass through."
But the tall old gentleman with the long white hair had already risen and gone round to where the girl sat, and put his hand on her shoulder.
"My noble child, you have spoken well," said he, in a quavering, feeble voice, "Forgive me that I come so near; my eyes are very weak now; and you—you do not recognize me any more?"
"Anton!" said the mother.
"Child," said he, still addressing Natalie, "it is old Anton Pepczinski who is speaking to you. But you are disturbed; and I have greatly changed, no doubt. No matter. I have travelled a long way to bring you my blessing, and I give it to you now: I shall not see you again in this world. You were always brave and good; be that to the end; God has given you a noble soul."
She looked up, and something in her face told him that she had recognized him, despite the changes time had made.
"Yes, yes," he said, in great delight; "you remember now that you used to bring me tobacco for my pipe, and ask if I would fight for your country; I can see it in your eyes, my child: you remember, then, the old Anton Pepczinski who used to bring you sweet things? Now come and take me to the English gentleman; I wish to speak to him. Tell me, does he love you—does he understand you?"
She was silent, and embarrassed.
"No! you will not speak?" the old man said, laughing; "you cast your eyes down again. See, now, how one changes! for in former days you made love openly enough—oh yes!—to me, to me myself—oh, my dear, I can remember. I can remember very well. I am not so old that I cannot remember."
Brand rose when he saw them coming. She regarded him earnestly for a brief second or two, and said something to him in English in an undertone, not understood by those standing round.
The moonlight lay on the moving Atlantic, and filled the hollow world with a radiance soft and gray and vague; but it struck sharp and white on the polished rails and spars of this great steamer, and shone on the long and shapely decks, and on the broad track of foam that went away back and back and back until it was lost in the horizon. It was late; and nearly all the passengers had gone below. In the silence there was only heard the monotonous sound of the engines, and the continuous rush and seething of the waters as the huge vessel clove its way onward.
Out there by the rail, in the white light, Natalie Lind lay back in her chair, all wrapped up in furs, and her lover was by her side, on a rug on the deck, his hand placed over her hand.
"To-morrow, then, Natalie," he was saying, "you will get your first glimpse of America."
"So you see I have procured your banishment after all," she said, with a smile.
"Not you," was the answer. "I had thought of it often. For a new life, a new world; and it is a new life you and I are beginning together."
Here the bell in the steering-room struck the half-hour; it was repeated by the lookout forward. The sound was strange, in the silence.
"Do you know," he said, after a while, "after we have done a fair share of work, we might think ourselves entitled to rest; and what better could we do than go back to England for a time, and go down to the old place in Buckinghamshire? Then Mrs. Alleyne would be satisfied at last. How proud the old dame was when she recognized you from your portrait! She thought all her dreams had come true, and that there was nothing left but to the Checkers and carry off that old cabinet as a wedding present."
"Natalie," he said, presently, "how is it that you always manage to do the right thing at the right time? When Mrs. Alleyne took your mother and you in to the Checkers, and old Mrs. Diggles led you into her parlor and dusted the table with her apron, what made you think of asking her for a piece of cake and a cup of tea?"
"My dearest, I saw the cake in the bar!" she exclaimed.
"I believe the old woman was ready to faint with delight when you praised her currant-wine, and asked how she made it. You have a wonderful way of getting round people—whether by fair means or otherwise I don't know. Do you think if it had been anybody else but you who went to Von Zoesch in Genoa, he would have let Calabressa come with us to America?"
"Poor old Calabressa!" she said, laughing; "he is very brave now about the sea; but he was terribly frightened that bad night we had after leaving Queenstown."
Here some one appeared in the dusky recess at the top of the companion-stairs, and stepped out into the open.
"Are you people never coming below at all?" he said. "I have to inform you, Miss Natalie, with your mamma's compliments, that she can't get on with her English verbs because of that fat girl playing Strauss; and that she is going to her cabin, and wants to know when you are coming."
"Now, at once," said Natalie, getting up out of her chair. "But wait a moment, Evelyn: I cannot go without bidding good-night to Calabressa. Where is Calabressa?"
"Calabressa! Oh, in the smoking-room, betting like mad, and going in for all the mock-auctions. I expect some of them will sit up all night to get their first sight of the land. The pilot expects that will be shortly after daybreak."
"You will be in time for that, Natalie, won't you?" Brand asked.
"Oh yes. Good-night, Evelyn!" and she gave him her hand.
Brand went with her down the companion-stairs, carrying her rugs and shawls. In the corridor she turned to bid him good-night also.
"Dearest," she said, in a low voice, "do you know what I have been trying all day—to get you to say one word, the smallest word, of regret?"
"But if I have no regret whatever, how can I express any?"
He laughed, and kissed her.
"Good-night, my darling!"
"Good-night; God bless you!"
Then he made his way along the gloomy corridor again and up the broad zinc steps, and out into the moonlight. Evelyn was there, leaning with his arms on the hand-rail, and idly watching, far below, the gleams of light on the gray-black waves.
"It is too fine a night to go below," he said. "What do you say, Brand—shall we wait up for the daylight and the first glimpse of America?"
"If you like," said Brand, taking out his cigar-case, and hauling along the chair in which Natalie had been sitting.
They had the whole of this upper deck to themselves, except when one or other of the officers passed on his rounds. They could talk without risk of being overheard: and they had plenty to talk about—of all that had happened of late, of all that might happen to them in this new country they were nearing.
"Well," he said, "Evelyn, that settlement in Genoa clinched everything, as far as I am concerned. I have no longer any doubt, any hesitation: there is nothing to be concealed now—nothing to be withheld, even from those who are content to remain merely as our friends. One might have gone on as before; for, after all, these death-penalties only attached to the officers; and the great mass of the members, not being touched by them, need have known nothing about them. But it is better now."
"It was Natalie's appeal that settled that," Lord Evelyn said, as he still watched the shining waves.
"The influence of that girl is extraordinary. One could imagine that some magnetism radiated from her; or perhaps it is her voice, and her clear faith, and her enthusiasm. When she said something to old Anton Pepczinski, on bidding him good-bye—not about herself, or about him, but about what some of us were hoping for—he was crying like a child! In other times she might have done great things: she might have led armies."
By-and-by he said,
"As for those decrees, what use were they? From all I could learn, only ten have been issued since the Society was in existence; and eight of those were for the punishment of officers, who ought merely to have been expelled. Of course you will get people like Calabressa, with a touch of theatrical-mindedness, who have a love for the terrorism such a thing can produce. But what use is it? It is not by striking down an individual here or there that you can help on any wide movement; and this great organization, that I can see in the future will have other things to do than take heed of personal delinquencies—except in so far as to purge out from itself unworthy members—its action will affect continents, not persons."
"You can see that—you believe that, Brand?" Lord Evelyn, said, turning and regarding him.
"Yes, I think so," he answered, without enthusiasm, but with simple sincerity. Presently he said, "You remember, Evelyn, the morning we turned out of the little inn on the top of the Niessen, to see the sun rise over the Bernese Alps?"
"I remember it was precious cold," said Lord Evelyn, almost with a shiver.
"You remember, when we got to the highest point, we looked down into the great valleys, where the lakes and the villages were, and there it was still night under the heavy clouds. But before us, where the peaks of the Jungfrau, and the Wetterhorn, and the rest of them rose into the clear sky, there was a curious faint light that showed the day was coming. And we waited and watched, and the light grew stronger, and all sorts of colors began to show along the peaks. That was the sunrise. But down in the valleys everything was misty and dark and cold—everything asleep; the people there could see nothing of the new day we were looking at. And so I suppose it is with us now. We are looking ahead. We see, or fancy we see, the light before the others; but, sooner or later, they will see it also, for the sunrise is bound to come."
They continued talking, and they paced up and down the decks, while the half-hours and hours were struck by the bells. The moon was declining to the horizon. Long ago the last of the revellers had left the smoking-room, and there was nothing to interrupt the stillness but the surge of the waters.
"Have you noticed Natalie's mother of late? It is a pleasure to watch the poor woman's face; she seems to drink in happiness by merely looking at her daughter; every time that Natalie laughs you can see her mother's eyes brighten."
"I have noticed a great change in Natalie herself," Evelyn said. "She is looking younger; she has lost that strange, half-apprehensive expression of the eyes; and she seems to be in excellent spirits. Calabressa is more devotedly her slave than ever."
"You should have seen him when Von Zoesch told him to pack up and be off to America."
By-and-by he said,
"You know, Evelyn, if you can't stay in America with us altogether—and that would be too much to expect—don't say anything as yet to Natalie about your going back. She has the notion that our little colony is to be founded as a permanency."
"Oh, I am in no hurry," said Evelyn, carelessly. "Things will get along at home well enough without me. Didn't I tell you that, once those girls began to go, they would go, like lightning? It is rough on Blanche, though, that Truda should come next. By-the-way, in any case, Brand, I must remain in America for your wedding."
"Oh, you will, will you?" said Brand. "Then that settles one point—you won't be going back very soon."
"Of course, Natalie and I won't marry until she is of age; that is a good year and a half yet. Did you hear of Calabressa's mad proposal that he should extort from Lind his consent to our marriage as the price of the good news that he, Calabressa, had to reveal? Like him, wasn't it? an ingenious scheme."
"What did you say?"
"Why, what could I say? I would not be put under any obligation to Lind on any account whatever. We can wait; it is not a long time."
The moonlight waned, and there was another light slowly declaring itself in the east. The two friends continued talking, and did not notice how that the cold blue light beyond the sea was gradually yielding to a silver-gray. The pilot and first mate, who were on the bridge, had just been joined by the captain.
The silver-gray in its turn gave place to a clear yellow, and high up one or two flakes of cloud became of a saffron-red. Then the burning edge of the sun appeared over the waves; the world lightened; the masts and funnels of the steamer caught the glory streaming over from the east. The ship seemed to waken also; one or two stragglers came tumbling up from below, rubbing their eyes, and staring strangely around them; but as yet no land was in sight.
The sunrise now flooded the sky and the sea; the number of those on deck increased; and at last there was an eager passing round of binoculars, and a murmur of eager interest. Those with sharp eyes enough could make out, right ahead, in the midst of the pale glow of the morning, a thin blue line of coast.
The great steamer surged on through the sunlit waters. And now even those who were without glasses could distinguish, here and there along that line of pale-blue land, a touch of yellowish-white; and they guessed that the new world there was already shining with the light of the new day. Brand felt a timid, small hand glide into his. Natalie was standing beside him, her beautiful black hair a trifle dishevelled, perhaps, and her eyes still bearing traces of her having been in the realm of dreams; but those eyes were full of tenderness, nevertheless, as she met his look. He asked her if she could make out that strip of coast beyond the shining waters.
"Can you see, Natalie? It is our future home!"
"Oh yes, I can see it," she said; "and the sunrise is there before us: it is a happy sign."
* * * * *
There remains to be added only this—that about the last thing Natalie Lind did before leaving England was to go and plant some flowers, carefully and tenderly, on Kirski's grave; and that about the first thing she did on landing in America was to write to Madame Potecki, asking her to look after the little Anneli, and sending many loving messages: for this girl—or, rather, this beautiful child, as Calabressa would persist in calling her—had a large heart, that could hold many affections and many memories, and that was not capable of forgetting any one who had been kind to her.
[Transcriber's Note: obvious printer's errors / misspellings have been corrected, please see the HTML version for detail.]