"Not the least," said Brand, with decision. "I have seen lots of women of that type in Pesth, and in Vienna, too: if you are walking in the Prater you can always tell the Hungarian women as they drive past. But you rarely see one as beautiful as she is."
After awhile Lord Evelyn said,
"This is Natalie's birthday. By-and-by I am going along to Bond Street to buy some little thing for her."
"Then she allows you to make her presents?" Brand said, somewhat coldly.
"She and I are like brother and sister now," said the pale, deformed lad, without hesitation. "If I were ill, I think she would be glad to come and look after me."
"You have already plenty of sisters who would do that.'"
"By-the-way, they are coming to town next week with my mother. You must come and dine with us some night, if you are not afraid to face the chatter of such a lot of girls."
"Have they seen Miss Lind?"
"No, not yet."
"And how will you explain your latest craze to them, Evelyn? They are very nice girls indeed, you know; but—but—when they set full cry on you—I suppose some day I shall have to send them a copy of a newspaper from abroad, with this kind of thing in it: 'Compeared yesterday before the Correctional Tribunal, Earnest Francis D'Agincourt, Baron Evelyn, charged with having in his possession two canisters of an explosive compound and fourteen empty missiles. Further, among the correspondence of the accused was found—'"
"'A letter from an Englishman named Brand,'" continued Lord Evelyn, as he rose and went to the window, "'apparently written under the influence of nightmare.' Come, Brand, I see the carriage is below. Will you drive with me to the jeweller's?"
"Certainly," said his friend; and at this moment the carriage was announced. "I suppose it wouldn't do for me to buy the thing? You know I have more money to spend on trinkets than you have."
They were very intimate friends indeed. Lord Evelyn only said, with a smile,
"I am afraid Natalie wouldn't like it."
But this choosing of a birthday present was a terrible business. The jeweller was as other jewellers: his designs were mostly limited to the representation of two objects—a butterfly for a woman, and a horseshoe for a man. At last Brand, who had been walking about from time to time, espied, in a distant case, an object which instantly attracted his attention. It was a flat piece of wood or board, covered with blue velvet; and on this had been twined an unknown number of yards of the beautiful thread-like gold chain common to the jewellers' shop-windows in Venice.
"Here you are, Evelyn," Brand said at once. "Why not buy a lot of this thin chain, and let her make it into any sort of decoration that she chooses?"
"It is an ignominious way out of the difficulty," said the other: but he consented; and yard after yard of the thread-like chain was unrolled. When allowed to drop together, it seemed to go into no compass at all.
They went outside.
"What are you going to do now, Brand?"
The other was looking cheerless enough.
"I?" he said, with the slightest possible shrug. "I suppose I must go down to the club, and yawn away the time till dinner."
"Then why not come with me? I have a commission or two from my sisters—one as far out as Notting Hill; but after that we can drive back through the Park and call on the Linds. I dare say Lind will be home by that time."
Lord Evelyn's friend was more than delighted. As they drove from place to place he was a good deal more talkative than was his wont; and, among other things, confessed his belief that Ferdinand Lind seemed much too hard-headed a man to be engaged in mere visionary enterprises. But somehow the conversation generally came round to Mr. Lind's daughter; and Brand seemed very anxious to find out to what degree she was cognizant of her father's schemes. On this point Lord Evelyn knew nothing.
At last they arrived at the house in Curzon Street, and found Mr. Lind just on the point of entering. He stayed to receive them; went up-stairs with them to the drawing-room, and then begged them to excuse him for a few minutes. Presently Natalie Lind appeared.
How this man envied his friend Evelyn the frank, sister-like way in which she took the little present, and thanked him, for that and his kind wishes!
"Ah, do you know," she said, "what a strange birthday gift I had given me this morning? See!"
She brought over the old-fashioned silver locket, and told them the whole story.
"Is it not strange?" she said. "'From Natalie to Natalushka:' that is, from myself to myself. What can it mean?"
"Have you not asked your father, then, about his mysterious messenger?" Brand said. He was always glad to ask this girl a question, for she looked him so straight in the face with her soft, dark eyes, as she answered,
"He has only now come home. I will directly."
"But why does your father call you Natalushka, Natalie?" asked Lord Evelyn.
There was the slightest blush on the pale, clear face.
"It was a nickname they gave me, I am told, when I was child. They used to make me angry."
"And now, if one were to call you Natalushka?"
"My anger would be too terrible," she said, with a smile. "Papa alone dares to do that."
Presently her father came into the room.
"Oh, papa," said she, "I have discovered who the lady is whom you got to bring me the flowers. And see! she has given me this strange little locket. Look at the inscription—'From Natalie to Natalushka.'"
Lind only glanced at the locket. His eyes were fixed on the girl.
"Where did you see the—the lady?" he asked, coldly.
"In the Park. But she did not stay a moment, or speak; she hurried on, and Anneli thought she was crying. I almost think so too. Who was it, papa? May I speak to her, if I see her again?"
Mr. Lind turned aside for a moment. Brand, who was narrowly watching him, was convinced that the man was in a passion of rage. But when he turned again he was outwardly calm.
"You will do nothing of the kind, Natalie," he said in measured tones. "I have warned you before against making indiscriminate acquaintances; and Anneli, if she is constantly getting such stupidities into her head, must be sent about her business. I do not wish to hear anything more about it. Will you ring and ask why tea has not been sent up?"
The girl silently obeyed. Her father had never spoken to her in this cold, austere tone before. She sat down at a small table, apart.
Mr. Lind talked for a minute or two with his guests; then he said,
"Natalie, you have the zither there; why do you not play us something?"
She turned to the small instrument, and, after a second or two, played a few notes: that was all. She rose and said, "I don't think I can play this afternoon, papa;" and then she left the room.
Mr. Lind pretended to converse with his guests as before; and tea came in; but presently he begged to be excused for a moment, and left the room. George Brand rose, and took a turn or two up and down.
"It would take very little," he muttered—for his teeth were set—"to make me throw that fellow out of the window!"
"What do you mean?" Lord Evelyn said, in great surprise.
"Didn't you see? She left the room to keep from crying. That miserable Polish cutthroat—I should like to kick him down-stairs!"
But at this moment the door opened, and father and daughter entered, arm-in-arm. Natalie's face was a little bit flushed, but she was very gentle and affectionate; they had made up that brief misunderstanding, obviously. And she had brought in her hand a mob-cap of black satin: would Lord Evelyn allow her to try the effect of twisting those beautiful golden threads through it?
"Natalushka," said her father, with great good-humor, "it is your birthday. Do you think you could persuade Lord Evelyn and Mr. Brand to come to your dinner-party?"
It was then explained to the two gentlemen that on this great anniversary it was the custom of Mr. Lind, when in London, to take his daughter to dine at some French or Italian restaurant in Regent Street or thereabouts. In fact, she liked to play at being abroad for an hour or two; to see around her foreign faces, and hear foreign tongues.
"I am afraid you will say that it is very easy to remind yourself of the Continent," said Mr. Lind, smiling—"that you have only to go to a place where they give you oily food and bad wine."
"On the contrary," said Brand, "I should thing it very difficult in London to imagine yourself in a foreign town; for London is drained. However, I accept the invitation with pleasure."
"And I," said Lord Evelyn. "Now, must we be off to dress?"
"Not at all," said Natalie. "Do you not understand that you are abroad, and walking into a restaurant to dine? And now I will play you a little invitation—not to dinner; for you must suppose you have dined—and you come out on the stairs of the hotel, and step into the black gondola."
She went along to the small table, and sat down to the zither. There were a few notes of prelude; and then they heard the beautiful low voice added to the soft tinkling sounds. What did they vaguely make out from that melodious murmur of Italian?
Behold the beautiful night—the wind sleeps drowsily—the silent shores slumber in the dark:
"Sul placido elemento Vien meco a navigar!"
The soft wind moves—as it stirs among the leaves—it moves and dies—among the murmur of the water:
"Lascia l'amico tetto Vien meco a navigar!"
Now on the spacious mantle—of the already darkening heavens—see, oh, the shining wonder—how the white stars tremble:
"Ai raggi della luna Vien meco a navigar!"
Where were they? Surely they have passed out from the darkness of the narrow canal, and are away on the broad bosom of the lagoon. The Place of St. Mark is all aglow with its golden points of fire; the yellow radiance spreads out into the night. And that other wandering mass of gold—the gondola hung round with lamps, and followed by a dark procession through the silence of the waters—does not the music come from thence? Listen, now:
"Sul l'onde addormentate Vien meco a navigar!"
Can they hear the distant chorus, in there at the shore where the people are walking about in the golden glare of the lamps?
"Vien meco a navigar! Vien meco a navigar!"
Or can some faint echo be carried away out to yonder island, where the pale blue-white radiance of the moonlight is beginning to touch the tall dome of San Giorgio?
"—a navigar! —a navigar!"
"It seems to me," said Lord Evelyn, when the girl rose, with a smile on her face, "that you do not need to go into Regent Street when you want to imagine yourself abroad."
Natalie looked at her watch.
"If you will excuse me, I will go and get ready now."
Well, they went to the big foreign restaurant; and had a small table all to themselves, in the midst of the glare, and the heat, and the indiscriminate Babel of tongues. And, under the guidance of Mr. Brand, they adventured upon numerous articles of food which were more varied in there names than in their flavor; and they tasted some of the compounds, reeking of iris-root, that the Neapolitans call wine, until they fell back on a flask of Chianti, and were content; and they regarded their neighbors, and were regarded in turn. In the midst of it all, Mr. Lind, who had been somewhat preoccupied, said suddenly.
"Natalie, can you start with me for Leipsic to-morrow afternoon?"
She was as prompt as a soldier.
"Yes, papa. Shall I take Anneli or not?"
"You may if you like."
After that George Brand seemed to take very little interest in this heterogeneous banquet: he stared absently at the foreign-looking people, at the hurrying waiters, at the stout lady behind the bar. Even when Mr. Lind told his daughter that her black satin mob-cap, with its wonderful intertwistings of Venetian chain, looked very striking in a mirror opposite, and when Lord Evelyn eagerly gave his friend the credit of having selected that birthday gift, he did not seem to pay much heed. When, after all was over, and he had wished Natalie "Bon voyage" at the door of the brougham, Lord Evelyn said to him,
"Come along to Clarges Street now and smoke a cigar."
"No, thanks!" he said. "I think I will stroll down to my rooms now."
"What is the matter with you, Brand? You have been looking very glum."
"Well, I have been thinking that London is a depressing sort of a place for a man to live in who does not know many people. It is very big, and very empty. I don't think I shall be able to stand it much longer."
A blustering, cold morning in March; the skies lowering, the wind increasing, and heavy showers being driven up from time to time from the black and threatening south-west. This was strange weather to make a man think of going to the seaside; and of all places at the seaside to Dover, and of all places in Dover to the Lord Warden Hotel, which was sure to be filled with fear-stricken foreigners, waiting for the sea to calm. Waters, as he packed the small portmanteau, could not at all understand this freak on the part of his master.
"If Lord Evelyn calls, sir," he said at the station, "when shall I say you will be back?"
"In a few days, perhaps. I don't know."
He had a compartment to himself; and away the train went through the wet and dismal and foggy country, with the rain pouring down the panes of the carriage. The dismal prospect outside, however, did not matter much to this solitary traveller. He turned his back to the window, and read all the way down.
At Dover the outlook was still more dismal. A dirty, yellow-brown sea was rolling heavily in, springing white along the Admiralty Pier; gusts of rain were sweeping along the thoroughfare between the station and the hotel; in the hotel itself the rooms were occupied by a miscellaneous collection of dissatisfied folk, who aimlessly read the advertisements in Bradshaw, or stared through the dripping windows at the yellow waves outside. This was the condition of affairs when George Brand took up his residence there. He was quite alone; but he had a sufficiency of books with him; and so deeply engaged was he with these, that he let the ordinary coffee-room discussions about the weather pass absolutely unheeded.
On the second morning a number of the travellers plucked up heart of grace and embarked, though the weather was still squally. George Brand was not in the least interested as to the speculations of those who remained about the responsibilities of the passage. He drew his chair toward the fire, and relapsed into his reading.
This day, however, was varied by his making the acquaintance of a little old French lady, which he did by means of her two granddaughters, Josephine, and Veronique. Veronique, having been pushed by Josephine, stumbled against Mr. Brand's knee, and would inevitably have fallen into the fireplace had he not caught her. Thereupon the little old lady, hurrying across the room, and looking very much inclined to box the ears of both Josephine and Veronique, most profusely apologized, in French, to monsieur. Monsieur replying in that tongue, said it was of no consequence whatever. Then madame greatly delighted at finding some one, not a waiter, to whom she could speak in her own language, continued the conversation, and very speedily made monsieur the confident of all her hopes and fears about that terrible business the Channel passage. No doubt monsieur was also waiting for this dreadful storm to abate?
Monsieur quickly perceived that so long as this voluble little old lady—who was as yellow as a frog, and had beady black eyes, but whose manner was exceedingly charming—chose to attach herself to him, his pursuit of knowledge was not likely to be attended with much success, so he shut the book on his finger, and pleasantly said to her,
"Oh no, madame; I am only waiting here for some friends."
Madame was greatly alarmed: surely they would not cross in such frightful weather? Monsieur ventured to think it was not so very bad. Then the little French lady glanced out at the window, and threw up her hands, and said with a shudder,
"Frightful! Truly frightful. What should I do with those two little ones ill, and myself ill? The sea might sweep them away!"
Mr. Brand, having observed something of the manners of Josephine and Veronique, was inwardly of opinion that the sea might be worse employed: but what he said was—
"You could take a deck-cabin, madame."
Madame again shuddered.
"Your friends are English, no doubt, monsieur; the English are not so much afraid of storms."
"No, madame, they are not English; but I do not think they would let such a day as this, for example, hinder them. They are not likely, however, to be on their way back for a day or two. To-morrow I may run over to Calais, just on the chance of crossing with them again."
Here was a mad Englishman, to be sure! When people, driven by dire necessity, had their heart in their mouth at the very notion of encountering that rough sea, here was a person who thought of crossing and returning for no reason on earth—a trifling compliment to his friends—a pleasure excursion—a break in the monotony of the day!
"And I shall be pleased to look after the little ones, madame," said he, politely, "if you are going over."
Madame thanked him very profusely; but assured him that so long as the weather looked so stormy she could not think of intrusting Josephine and Veronique to the mercy of the waves.
Now, if George Brand had little hope of meeting his friends that day, he acted pretty much as if he were expecting some one. First of all, he had secured a saloon-carriage in the afternoon mail-train to London—an unnecessary luxury for a bachelor well accustomed to the hardships of travel. Then he had managed to procure a handsome bouquet of freshly-cut flowers. Finally, there was some mysterious arrangement by which fruit, cakes, tea, and wine were to be ready at a moment's notice in the event of that saloon-carriage being required.
Then, as soon as the rumor went through the hotel that the vessel was in sight, away he went down the pier, with his coat-collar tightly buttoned, and his hat jammed down. What a toy-looking thing the steamer was, away out there in the mists or the rain, with the brown line of smoke stretching back to the horizon! She was tossing and rolling a good deal among the brown waves: he almost hoped his friends were not on board. And he wished that all the more when he at length saw the people clamber up the gangway—a miserable procession of half-drowned folk, some of them scarcely able to walk. No; his friends were not there. He returned to the hotel, and to his books.
But the attentions of Josephine and Veronique had become too pressing; so he retired from the reading-room, and took refuge in his own room up-stairs. It fronted the sea. He could hear the long, monotonous, continuous wash of the waves: from time to time the windows rattled with the wind.
He took from his portmanteau another volume from that he had been reading, and sat down by the window. But he had only read a line or two when he turned and looked absently out on the sea. Was he trying to recall, amidst all that confused and murmuring noise, some other sound that seemed to haunt him?
"Who is your lady of love, oh ye that pass Singing?"
Was he trying to recall that pathetic thrill in his friend Evelyn's voice which he knew was but the echo of another voice? He had never heard Natalie Lind read: but he knew that that was how she had read, when Evelyn's sensitive nature had heard and been permeated by the strange tremor. And now, as he opened the book again, whose voice was it he seemed to hear, in the silence of the small room, amidst the low and constant murmur of the waves?
"—And ye shall die before your thrones be won. —Yea, and the changed world and the liberal sun Shall move and shine with out us, and we lie Dead; but if she too move on earth and live— But if the old world, with all the old irons rent, Laugh and give thanks, shall we be not content? Nay, we shall rather live, we shall not die, Life being so little, and death so good to give.
* * * * * * *
"—But ye that might be clothed with all things pleasant, Ye are foolish that put off the fair soft present, That clothe yourselves with the cold future air; When mother and father, and tender sister and brother, And the old live love that was shall be as ye, Dust, and no fruit of loving life shall be. —She shall be yet who is more than all these were, Than sister or wife or father unto us or mother."
He turned again to the window, to the driven yellow sea, and the gusts of rain. Surely there was no voice to be heard from other and farther shores?
"—Is this worth life, is this to win for wages? Lo, the dead mouths of the awful gray-grown ages, The venerable, in the past that is their prison, In the outer darkness, in the unopening grave, Laugh, knowing how many as ye now say have said— How many, and all are fallen, are fallen and dead: Shall ye dead rise, and these dead have not risen? —Not we but she, who is tender and swift to save.
"—Are ye not weary, and faint not by the way, Seeing night by night devoured of day by day, Seeing hour by hour consumed in sleepless fire? Sleepless: and ye too, when shall ye too sleep? —We are weary in heart and head, in hands and feet, And surely more than all things sleep were sweet, Than all things save the inexorable desire Which whoso knoweth shall neither faint nor weep."
He rose, and walked up and down for a time. What would one not give for a faith like that?
"—Is this so sweet that one were fain to follow? Is this so sure where all men's hopes are hollow, Even this your dream, that by much tribulation Ye shall make whole flawed hearts, and bowed necks straight? —Nay, though our life were blind, our death were fruitless, Not therefore were the whole world's high hope rootless; But man to man, nation would turn to nation, And the old life live, and the old great world be great."
With such a faith—with that "inexorable desire" burning in the heart and the brain—surely one could find the answer easy enough to the last question of the poor creatures who wonder at the way-worn pilgrims,
"—Pass on then, and pass by us and let us be, For what light think ye after life to see? And if the world fare better will ye know? And if man triumph who shall seek you and say?"
That he could answer for himself, at any rate. He was not one to put much store by the fair soft present; and if he were to enter upon any undertaking such as that he had had but a glimpse of, neither personal reward nor hope of any immediate success would be the lure. He would be satisfied to know that his labor or his life had been well spent. But whence was to come that belief? whence the torch to kindle the sacred fire?
The more he read, during these days of waiting, of the books and pamphlets he had brought with him, the less clear seemed the way before him. He was struck with admiration when he read of those who had forfeited life or liberty in this or the other cause; and too often with despair when he came to analyze their aims. Once or twice, indeed, he was so moved by the passionate eloquence of some socialist writer that he was ready to say, "Well, the poor devils have toiled long enough; give them their turn, let the revolution cost what it may!" And then immediately afterward: "What! Stir up the unhappy wretches to throw themselves on the bayonets of the standing armies of Europe? There is no emancipation for them that way."
But when he turned from the declamation and the impracticable designs of this impassioned literature to the vast scheme of co-operation that had been suggested rather than described to him, there seemed more hope. If all these various forces that were at work could be directed into one channel, what might they not accomplish? Weed out the visionary, the impracticable, the anarchical from their aims; and then what might not be done by this convergence of all these eager social movements? Lind, he argued with himself, was not at all a man likely to devote himself to optimistic dreams. Further than that—and here he was answering a suspicion that again and again recurred to him—what if, in such a great social movement, men were to be found who were only playing for their own hand? That was the case in every such combination. But false or self-seeking agents neither destroyed the nobleness of the work nor could defeat it in the end if it were worthy to live. They might try to make for themselves what use they could of the current, but they too were swept onward to the sea.
So he argued, and communed, and doubted, and tried to believe. And all through it—whether he paced up and down by the sea in the blustering weather, or strolled away through the town and up the face of the tall white cliff, or lay awake in the dark night, listening to the rush and moan of the waves—all through these doubts and questions there was another and sweeter and clearer sound, that seemed to come from afar—
"She shall be yet who is more than all these were, Than sister or wife or father unto us or mother."
However loud the sea was at night, that was the sound he heard, clear and sweet—the sound of a girl's voice, that had joy in it, and faith in the future, and that spoke to him of what was to be.
Well, the days passed; and still his friends did not come. He had many trips across, to while away the time: and had become great friends with the stout, black-haired French captain. He had conveyed Josephine and Veronique and their little grandmother safely over, and had made them as comfortable as was possible under trying circumstances. And always and every day there were freshly-cut flowers and renewed fruit, and a re-engaged saloon-carriage waiting for those strangers who did not come; until both hotel people and railway people began to think Mr. Brand as mad as the little French lady assured herself he was, when he said he meant to cross the Channel twice for nothing.
At last—at last! He had strolled up to the Calais station, and was standing on the platform when the train came in. But there was no need for him to glance eagerly up and down at the now opening doors; for who was this calmly regarding him—or rather regarding him with a smile of surprise? Despite the big furred cloak and the hood, he knew at once; he darted forward, lifted the lower latch and opened the door, and gave her his hand.
"Oh, how do you do, Mr. Brand?" said she, with a pleasant look of welcome. "Who could have expected to meet you here?"
He was confused, embarrassed, bewildered. This voice so strangely recalled those sounds that had been haunting him for days. He could only stammer out,
"I—I happened to be at Dover, and thought I would run over here for a little bit. How lucky you are—it is such a beautiful day for crossing."
"That is good news; I must tell papa," said Natalie, cheerfully, as she turned again to the open door.
"And you are going over too? And to London also? Oh, that will be very nice."
It seemed so strange to hear this voice, that had for days sounded to him as if it were far away, now quite close, and talking in this friendly and familiar fashion. Then she had brought the first of the spring with her. The air had grown quite mild: the day was clear and shining; even the little harbor there seemed bright and picturesque in the sun. He had never before considered Calais a very beautiful place.
And as for her; well, she appeared pleased to have met with this unexpected companion; and she was very cheerful and talkative as they went down to the quay, these two together. And whether it was that she was glad to be relieved from the cramped position of the carriage, or whether it was that his being taller than she gave countenance to her height, or whether it was merely that she rejoiced in the sweet air and the exhilaration of the sunlight, she seemed to walk with even more than her usual proudness of gait. This circumstance did not escape the eye of her father, who was immediately behind.
"Natalie," said he, peevishly, "you are walking as if you wore a sword by your side."
She did not seem sorely hurt.
"'Du Schwert an meiner Linken!'" she said, with a laugh. "It is my military cloak that makes you think so, papa."
Why, even this cockle-shell of a steamer looked quite inviting on so pleasant a morning. And there before them stretched the blue expanse of the sea, with every wave, and every ripple on every wave, flashing a line of silver in the sunlight. No sooner were they out of the yellow-green waters of the harbor than Mr. Brand had his companions conducted on to the bridge between the paddle-boxes; and the little crop-haired French boy brought them camp-stools, and their faces were turned toward England.
"Ah!" said Natalie, "many a poor wretch has breathed more freely when at last he found himself looking out for the English shore. Do you remember old Anton Pepczinski and his solemn toast, papa?"
She turned to George Brand.
"He was an old Polish gentleman, who used to come to our house in the evening, he and a few others of his countrymen, to smoke and play chess. But always, some time during the evening, he would say, 'Gentlemen, a Pole is never ungrateful. I call on you to drink this toast: To the white chalk-line beyond the sea!'" And then she added, quickly, "If I were English, how proud I should be of England!"
"But why?" he said.
"Because she has kept liberty alive in Europe," said the girl, proudly; "because she offers an exile to the oppressed, no matter from whence they come; because she says to the tyrant, 'No, you cannot follow.' Why, when even your beer-men your dray-men know how to treat a Haynau, what must the spirit of the country be? If only those fine fellows could have caught Windischgratz too!"
Her father laughed at her vehemence; Brand did not. That strange vibration in the girl's voice penetrated him to the heart.
"But then," said he, after a second or two, "I have been amusing myself for some days back by reading a good deal of political writing, mostly by foreigners; and if I were to believe what they say, I should take it that England was the most superstitious, corrupt, enslaved nation on the face of the earth! What with its reverence for rank, its worship of the priesthood—oh, I cannot tell you what a frightful country it is!"
"Who were the writers?" Mr. Lind asked.
Brand named two or three, and instantly the attention of the others seemed arrested.
"Oh, that is the sort of literature you have been reading?" he said, with a quick glance.
"I have had some days' idleness."
"Excuse me," said the other, with a smile; "but I think you might have spent it better. That kind of literature only leads to disorder and anarchy. It may have been useful at one time; it is useful no longer. Enough of ploughing has been done: we want sowing done now—we want writers who will build up instead of pulling down. Those Nihilists," he added, almost with a sigh, "are becoming more and more impracticable. They aim at scarcely anything beyond destruction."
Here Natalie changed the conversation. This was too bright and beautiful a day to admit of despondency.
"I suppose you love the sea, Mr. Brand?" she said. "All Englishmen do. And yachting—I suppose you go yachting?"
"I have tried it; but it is too tedious for me," said Brand. "The sort of yachting I like is in a vessel of five thousand tons, going three hundred and eighty miles a day. With half a gale of wind in your teeth in the 'rolling Forties,' then there is some fun."
"I must go over to the States very soon," Mr. Lind said.
"The worst of it is," her father said, without heeding that exclamation of protest, "that I have so much to do that can only be done by word of mouth."
"I wish I could take the message for you," Brand said, lightly. "When the weather looks decent, I very often take a run across to New York, put up for a few days at the Brevoort House, and take the next ship home. It is very enjoyable, especially if you know the officers. Then the bagman—I have acquired a positive love for the bagman."
"The what?" said Natalie.
"The bagman. The 'commy' his friends call him. The commercial traveller, don't you know? He is a most capital fellow—full of life and fun, desperately facetious, delighting in practical jokes: altogether a wonderful creature. You begin to think you are in another generation—before England became melancholy—the generation, for example, that roared over the adventures of Tom and Jerry."
Natalie did not know who Tom and Jerry were; but that was of little consequence; for at this moment they began to descry "the white chalk-line beyond the sea"—the white line of the English coast. And they went on chatting cheerfully; and the sunlight flashed its diamonds on the blue waters around them, and the white chalk cliffs became more distinct.
"And yet it seems so heartless for one to be going back to idleness," Natalie Lind said, absently. "Papa works as hard in England as anywhere else; but what can I do? To think of one going back to peaceful days, and comfort, and pleasant friends, when others have to go through such misery, and to fight against such persecution! When Vjera Sassulitch offered me her hand—"
She stopped abruptly, with a quick, frightened look, first at George Brand, then at her father.
"You need not hesitate, Natalie," her father said, calmly. "Mr. Brand has given me his word of honor he will reveal nothing he may hear from us."
"I do not think you need be afraid," said Brand; but all the same he was conscious of a keen pang of mortification. He, too, had noticed that quick look of fright and distrust. What did it mean, then? "You are beside us, you are near to us; but you are not of us, you are not with us."
He was silent, and she was silent too. She seemed ashamed of her indiscretion, and would say nothing further about Vjera Sassulitch.
"Don't imagine, Mr. Brand," said her father, to break this awkward silence, "that what Natalie says is true. She is not going to be so idle as all that. No; she has plenty of hard work before her—at least, I think it hard work—translating from the German into Polish."
"I wish I could help," Brand said, in a low voice. "I do not know a word of Polish."
"You help?" she said, regarding him with the beautiful dark eyes, that had a sudden wonder in them. "Would you, if you knew Polish?"
He met that straight, fearless glance without flinching; and he said "Yes," while they still looked at each other. Then her eyes fell; and perhaps there was the slightest flush of embarrassment, or pleasure, on the pale, handsome face.
But how quickly her spirits rose! There was no more talk of politics as they neared England. He described the successive ships to her; he called her attention to the strings of wild-duck flying up Channel; he named the various headlands to her. Then, as they got nearer and nearer, the little Anneli had to be sought out, and the various travelling impedimenta got together. It did not occur to Mr. Lind or his daughter as strange that George Brand should be travelling without any luggage whatever.
But surely it must have occurred to them as remarkable that a bachelor should have had a saloon-carriage reserved for himself—unless, indeed, they reflected that a rich Englishman was capable of any whimsical extravagance. Then, no sooner had Miss Lind entered this carriage, than it seemed as though everything she could think of was being brought for her. Such flowers did not grow in railway-stations—especially in the month of March. Had the fruit dropped from the telegraph-poles? Cakes, wine, tea, magazines and newspapers appeared to come without being asked for.
"Mr. Brand," said Natalie, "you must be an English Monte Cristo: do you clap your hands, and the things appear?"
But a Monte Cristo should never explain. The conjuror who reveals his mechanism is no longer a conjuror. George Brand only laughed, and said he hoped Miss Lind would always find people ready to welcome her when she reached English shores.
As they rattled along through those shining valleys—the woods and fields and homesteads all glowing in the afternoon sun—she had put aside her travelling-cloak and hood, for the air was quite mild. Was it the drawing off of the hood, or the stir of wind on board the steamer, that had somewhat disarranged her hair?—at all events, here and there about her small ear or the shapely neck there was an escaped curl of raven-black. She had taken off her gloves, too: her hands, somewhat large, were of a beautiful shape, and transparently white. The magazines and newspapers received not much attention—except from Mr. Lind, who said that at last he should see some news neither a week old nor fictitious. As for these other two, they seemed to find a wonderful lot to talk about, and all of a profoundly interesting character. With a sudden shock of disappointment George Brand found that they were almost into London.
His hand-bag was at once passed by the custom-house people; and he had nothing to do but say good-bye. His face was not over-cheerful.
"Well, it was a lucky meeting," Mr. Lind said. "Natalie ought to thank you for being so kind to her."
"Yes; but not here," said the girl, and she turned to him. "Mr. Brand, people who have travelled so far together should not part so quickly: it is miserable. Will you not come and spend the evening with us?"
"Natalie will give us something in the way of an early dinner," said Mr. Lind, "and then you can make her play the zither for you."
Well, there was not much hesitation about his accepting. That drawing-room, with its rose-and-green-shaded candles, was not as other drawing-rooms in the evening. In that room you could hear the fountains plashing in the Villa Reale, and the Capri fishermen singing afar, and the cattle-bells chiming on the Campagna, and the gondolas sending their soft chorus across the lagoon. When Brand left his bag in the cloak-room at the station he gave the porter half a crown for carrying thither, which was unnecessary. Nor was there any hopeless apathy on his face as he drove away with these two friends through the darkening afternoon, in the little hired brougham. When they arrived in Curzon Street, he was even good enough to assist the timid little Anneli to descend from the box; but this was in order that he might slip a tip into the hand of the coachman. The coachman scarcely said "Thank you." It was not until afterward that he discovered he had put half a sovereign into his breeches-pocket as if it were an ordinary sixpence.
Natalie Lind came down to dinner in a dress of black velvet, with a mob-cap of rose-red silk. Round her neck she wore a band of Venetian silver-work, from the centre of which was suspended the little old-fashioned locket she had received in Hyde Park. George Brand remembered the story, and perhaps was a trifle surprised that she should wear so conspicuously the gift of a stranger.
She was very friendly, and very cheerful. She did not seem at all fatigued with her travelling; on the contrary, it was probably the sea-air and the sunlight that had lent to her cheek a faint flush of color. But at the end of dinner her father said.
"Natalushka, if we go into the drawing-room, and listen to music, after so long a day, we shall all go to sleep. You must come into the smoking-room with us."
"Very well, papa."
"But, Miss Lind," the other gentleman remonstrated, "a velvet dress—tobacco-smoke—"
"My dresses must take their chance," said Miss Lind. "I wear them to please my friends, not to please chance acquaintances who may call during the day."
And so they retired to the little den at the end of the passage; and Natalie handed Mr. Brand a box of cigars to choose from, and got down from the rack her father's long-stemmed, red-bowled pipe. Then she took a seat in the corner by the fire, and listened.
The talk was all about that anarchical literature that Brand had been devouring down at Dover; and he was surprised to find how little sympathy Lind had with writing of that kind, though he had to confess that certain of the writers were personal friends of his own. Natalie sat silent, listening intently, and staring into the fire.
At last Brand said,
"Of course, I had other books. For example, one I see on your shelves there." He rose, and took down the "Songs before Sunrise." "Miss Lind," he said, "I am afraid you will laugh at me; but I have been haunted with the notion that you have been teaching Lord Evelyn how to read poetry, or that he has been unconsciously imitating you. I heard him repeat some passages from 'The Pilgrims,' and I was convinced he was reproducing something he had heard from you. Well—I am almost ashamed to ask you—"
A touch of embarrassment appeared on the girl's face, and she glanced at her father.
"Yes, certainly, Natalie; why not?"
"Well," she said, lightly, "I cannot read if I am stared at. You must remain as you are."
She took the book from him, and passed to the other side of the room, so that she was behind them both. There was silence for an instant or two as she turned over the leaves.
Then the silence was broken; and if Brand was instantly assured that his surmise was correct, he also knew that here was a more pathetic cadence—a prouder ring—than any that Lord Evelyn had thrown into the lines. She read at random—a passage here, a passage there—but always it seemed to him that the voice was the voice of a herald proclaiming the new awakening of the world—the evil terrors of the night departing—the sunlight of liberty and right and justice beginning to shine over the sea. And these appeals to England!
"Oh thou, clothed round with raiment of white waves, Thy brave brows lightening through the gray wet air, Thou, lulled with sea-sounds of a thousand caves, And lit with sea-shine to thy inland lair, Whose freedom clothed the naked souls of slaves And stripped the muffled souls of tyrants bare, Oh, by the centuries of thy glorious graves, By the live light of the earth that was thy care, Live, thou must not be dead, Live; let thy armed head Lift itself up to sunward and the fair Daylight of time and man, Thine head republican, With the same splendor on thine helmless hair That in his eyes kept up a light Who on thy glory gazed away their sacred sight."
The cry there was in this voice! Surely his heart answered,
"Oh Milton's land, what ails thee to be dead!"
Was it in this very room, he wondered, that the old Polish refugee was used to lift up his trembling hand and bid his compatriots drink to "the white chalk-line beyond the sea?" How could he forget, as he and she sat together that morning, and gazed across the blue waters to the far and sunlit line of coast, the light that shone on her face as she said, "If I were English, how proud I should be of England!" And this England of her veneration and her love—did it not contain some, at least, who would answer to her appeal?
Presently Natalie Lind shut the book and gently laid it down, and stole out of the room. She was gone only for a few seconds. When she returned, she had in her hand a volume of sketches, of which she had been speaking during dinner.
He did not open this volume at once. On the contrary, he was silent for a little while; and then he looked up, and addressed Natalie, with a strange grave smile on his face.
"I was about to tell your father, Miss Lind, when you came in, that if I could not translate for you, or carry a message across the Atlantic for him, he might at least find something else that I can do. At all events, may I say that I am willing to join you, if I can be of any help at all?"
Ferdinand Lind regarded him for a second, and said, quite calmly,
"It is unnecessary. You have already joined us."
A NIGHT IN VENICE.
The solitary occupant of this railway-carriage was apparently reading; but all the same he looked oftener at his watch than at his book. At length he definitely shut the volume and placed it in his travelling-bag. Then he let down the carriage-window, and looked out into the night.
The heavens were clear and calm; the newly-risen moon was but a thin crescent of silver; in the south a large planet was shining. All around him, as it seemed, stretched a vast plain of water, as dark and silent and serene as the overarching sky. Then, far ahead, he could catch a glimpse of a pale line stretching across the watery plain—a curve of the many-arched viaduct along which the train was thundering; and beyond that again, and low down at the horizon, two or three minute and dusky points of orange. These lights were the lights of Venice.
This traveller was not much hampered with luggage. When finally the train was driven into the glare of the station, and the usual roar and confusion began, he took his small bag in his hand and rapidly made his way through the crowd; then out and down the broad stone steps, and into a gondola. In a couple of minutes he was completely away from all that glare and bustle and noise; nothing around him but darkness and an absolute silence.
The city seemed as the City of the Dead. The tall and sombre buildings on each side of the water-highway were masses of black—blackest of all where they showed against the stars. The ear sought in vain for any sound of human life; there was nothing but the lapping of the water along the side of the boat, and the slow, monotonous plash of the oar.
Father and farther into the silence and the darkness; and now here and there a window, close down to the water, and heavily barred with rectangular bars of iron, shows a dull red light; but there is no sound, nor any passing shadow within. The man who is standing by the hearse-like cabin of the gondola observes and thinks. These black buildings; the narrow and secret canals; the stillness of the night: are they not suggestive enough—of revenge, a quick blow, and the silence of the grave? And now, as the gondola still glides on, there is heard a slow and distant tolling of bells. The Deed is done, then?—no longer will the piteous hands be thrust out of the barred window—no longer will the wild cry for help startle the passer-by in the night-time. And now again, as the gondola goes on its way, another sound—still more muffled and indistinct—the sound of a church organ, with the solemn chanting of voices. Are they praying for the soul of the dead? The sound becomes more and more distant; the gondola goes on its way.
The new-comer has no further time for these idle fancies. At the Rialto bridge he stops the gondola, pays the man, and goes ashore. Then, rapidly ascending the steps, he crosses the bridge, descends the other side, and again jumps into a gondola. All this the work of a few seconds.
But it was obvious he had been expected. He gave no instructions to the two men in this second gondola. They instantly went to work, and with a rapid and powerful stroke sent the boat along—with an occasional warning cry as they swept by the entrance to one or other of the smaller canals. Finally, they abruptly left the Grand Canal, close by the Corte d'Appello, and shot into a narrow opening that seemed little more than a slit between the buildings.
Here they had to go more cautiously; the orange light of their lamp shining as they passed on the empty archways, and on the iron-barred windows, and slimy steps. And always this strange silence in the dead or sleeping city, and the monotonous plash of the oars, and the deep low cry of "Sia premi!" or "Sia stali!" to give warning of their approach. But, indeed, that warning was unnecessary; they were absolutely alone in this labyrinth of gloomy water-ways.
At length they shot beneath a low bridge, and stopped at some steps immediately beyond. Here one of the men, getting out, proceeded to act as guide to the stranger. They had not far to go. They passed first of all into a long, low, and foul-smelling archway, in the middle of which was a narrow aperture protected by an iron gate. The man lit a candle, opened the gate, and preceded his companion along a passage and up a stone staircase. The atmosphere of the place was damp and sickly; the staircase was not more than three feet in width; the feeble glimmer of the candle did but little to dispel the darkness. Even that was withdrawn; for the guide, having knocked thrice at a door, blew out the candle, and retreated down-stairs.
"The night is dark, brother."
"The dawn is near."
Instantly the door was thrown open; the dark figure of a man was seen against the light; he said, "Come in! come in!" and his hand was outstretched. The stranger seemed greatly surprised.
"What, you, Calabressa!" he exclaimed. "Your time has not yet expired!"
"What, no? My faith, I have made it expire!" said the other, airily, and introducing a rather badly pronounced French word or two into his Italian. "But come in, come in; take a seat. You are early; you may have to wait."
He was an odd-looking person, this tall, thin, elderly man, with the flowing yellow-white hair and the albino eyes. There was a semi-military look about his braided coat; but, on the other hand, he wore the cap of a German student—of purple velvet, with a narrow leather peak. He seemed to be proud of his appearance. He had a gay manner.
"Yes, I am escaped. Ah, how fine it is! You walk about all day as you please; you smoke cigarettes; you have your coffee; you go to look at the young English ladies who come to feed the pigeons in the place."
He raised two fingers to his lips, and blew a kiss to all the world.
"Such complexions! A wild rose in every cheek! But listen, now; this is not about an English young lady. I go up to the Church of St. Mark—besides the bronze horses. I am enjoying the air, when I hear a sound; I turn; over there I see open windows; ah! the figure in the white dressing-gown! It is the diva herself. They play the Barbiere to-night, and she is practicing as she dusts her room. Una voce poco fa—it thrills all through the square. She puts the ornaments on the mantel-piece straight. Lo giurai, la vincero!—she goes to the mirror and makes the most beautiful attitude. Ah, what a spectacle—the black hair all down—the white dressing-gown—In sono docile"—and again he kissed his two fingers. Then he said,
"But now, you. You do not look one day older. And how is Natalie?"
"Natalie is well, I believe," said the other, gravely.
"You are a strange man. You have not a soft heart for the pretty creatures of the world; you are implacable. The little Natalushka, then; how is she?"
"The little Natalushka is grown big now; she is quite a woman."
"A woman! She will marry an Englishman, and become very rich: is not that so?"
"Natalie—I mean, Natalushka will not marry," said the other coldly. "She knows she is very useful to me. She knows I have no other."
"Maintenant: the business—how goes that?"
"Elsewhere, well; in England, not quite so well," said Ferdinand Lind. "But what can you expect? The English think they have no need of co-operation, except to get their groceries cheap. Why, everything is done in the open air there. If a scoundrel gets a lash too many in prison, you have it before Parliament next week. If a school-boy is kicked by his master, you have all the newspapers in the country ablaze. The newspapers govern England. A penny journal has more power than the commander-in-chief."
"Then why do you remain in England?"
"It is the safest for me, personally. Then there is most to be done there. Again, it is the head-quarters of money. Do you see, Calabressa? One must have money, or one cannot work."
The albino-looking man lit a cigarette.
"You despair, then, of England? No, you never despair."
"There is a prospect. The Southern Englishman is apathetic; he is interested only, as I have said, in getting his tea and sugar cheap. But the Northern Englishman is vigorous. The trades' associations in the North are vast, powerful, wealthy; but they are suspicious of anything foreign. Members join us; the associations will not. But what do you think of this, Calabressa: if one were to have the assistance of an Englishman whose father was one of the great iron-masters; whose name is well known in the north; who has a large fortune, and a strong will?"
"You have got such a man?"
"Not yet. He is only a Friend. But if I do not misjudge him, he will be a Companion soon. He is a man after my own heart; once with us, all the powers of the earth will not turn him back."
"And his fortune?"
"He will help us with that also, no doubt."
"But how did it occur to Providence to furnish you with an assistant so admirably equipped?"
"Do you mean how did I chance to find him? Through a young English lord—an amiable youth, who is a great friend of Natalie's—of Natalushka's. Why, he has joined us, too—"
"An English milord!"
"Yes; but it is merely from poetical sympathy. He is pleasant and warm-hearted, but to us not valuable; and he is poor."
At this moment a bell rung, apparently in the adjoining apartment. Calabressa jumped from his chair, and hastened to a door on his left, which he opened. A portiere prevented anything being seen in the chamber beyond.
"Has the summons been answered?" a voice asked, from the other side.
"Yes, sir," said Calabressa. "Brother Lind is here."
"That is well."
The door was again shut, and Calabressa resumed his seat.
"Brother Lind," said he, in a low voice, though he leaned back in his chair, and still preserved that gay manner, "I suppose you do not know why you have been summoned?"
"Bien. But suppose one were to guess? Suppose there is a gentleman somewhere about who has been carrying his outraging of one's common notions of decency just a little too far? Suppose it is necessary to make an example? You may be noble, and have great wealth, and honor, and smiles from beautiful women; but if some night you find a little bit of steel getting into your heart, or if some morning you find your coffee as you drink it burn all the way down until you can feel it burn no more—what then? You must bid good-bye to your mistresses, and to your gold plates and feasts, and your fountains spouting perfumes, and all your titles; is not that so?"
"But who is it?" said Lind, suddenly bending forward.
The other regarded him for a moment, playfully.
"What if I were to mention the 'Starving Cardinal?'"
"Zaccatelli!" exclaimed Lind, with a ghastly pallor appearing for a moment in the powerful iron-gray face.
Calabressa only laughed.
"Oh yes, it is beautiful to have all these fine things. And the unhappy devils who are forced to pawn their last sticks of furniture at the Monte di Pieta, rather than have their children starve when bread is dear; how it must gratify them to think of his Eminence seizing the funds of that flourishing institution to buy up the whole of the grain in the Papal States! What an admirable speculation! How kind to the poor, on the part of the Secretary to the Vicar of Christ! What!—do you think because I am a cardinal I am not to make a profit in corn? I tell you those people have no business to be miserable—they have no business to go and pawn their things; if I am allowed to speculate with the funds, why not? Allons donc!—It is a devilish fine world, merry gentlemen!"
"But—but why have they summoned me?" Lind said, in the same low voice.
"Who knows?" said the other, lightly. "I do not. Come, tell me more about the little Natalushka. Ah, do I not remember the little minx, when she came in, after dinner, among all those men, with her 'Eljen a haza!' What has she grown to? what has she become?"
"Natalie is a good girl," said her father; but he was thinking of other things.
"Some would say so."
"But not like the English young ladies?"
"Not at all."
"I thought not. I remember the black-eyed little one—with her pride in Batthyany, and her hatred in Gorgey, and all the rest of it. The little Empress!—with her proud eyes, and her black eyelashes. Do you remember at Dunkirk, when old Anton Pepczinski met her for the first time? 'Little Natalushka, if I wait for you, will you marry me when you grow up?" Then the quick answer, "I am not to be called any longer by my nursery name; but if you will fight for my country, I will marry you when I grow up.'"
Light-hearted as this man Calabressa was, having escaped from prison, and eagerly inclined for chatter, after so long a spell of enforced silence, he could not fail to perceive that his companion was hardly listening to him.
"Mais, mon frere, a quoi bon le regarder?" he said, peevishly. "If it must come, it will come. Or is it the poor cardinal you pity? That was a good name they invented for him, anyway—il cardinale affamatore."
Again the bell rung, and Ferdinand Lind started. When he turned to the door, it was with a look on his face of some anxiety and apprehension—a look but rarely seen there. Then the portiere was drawn aside to let some one come through: at the same moment Lind caught a brief glimpse of a number of men sitting round a small table.
The person who now appeared, and whom Lind saluted with great respect, was a little, sallow-complexioned man, with an intensely black beard and mustache, and a worn expression of face. He returned Lind's salutation gravely, and said,
"Brother, the Council thank you for your prompt answer to the summons. Meanwhile, nothing is decided. You will attend here to-morrow night."
"At what hour, Brother Granaglia?"
"Ten. You will now be conveyed back to the Rialto steps; from thence you can get to your hotel."
Lind bowed acquiescence; and the stranger passed again through the portiere and disappeared.
"Evelyn, I distrust that man Lind."
The speaker was George Brand, who kept impatiently pacing up and down those rooms of his, while his friend, with a dreamy look on the pale and fine face, lay back in an easy-chair, and gazed out of the clear panes before him. It was night; the blinds had not been drawn; and the row of windows, framed by their scarlet curtains, seemed a series of dark-blue pictures, all throbbing with points of golden fire.
"Is there any one you do not distrust?" said Lord Evelyn, absently.
"I hope so. But with regard to Lind: I had distinctly to let him know he must not assume that I am mixed up in any of his schemes until I definitely say so. When, in answer to my vague proposal, he told me I had already pledged myself, I confess I was startled for a moment. Of course it was all very well for him afterward to speak of my declared sympathy, and of my promise to reveal nothing, as being quite enough, at least for the earlier stage. If that is so, you may easily acquire adherents. But either I join with a definite pledge, or not at all."
"I am inclined to think you had better not join," said Lord Evelyn, calmly.
After that there was silence; and Brand's companion lay and looked on the picture outside, that was so dark and solemn and still. In the midst of all that blaze of various and trembling lights was the unseen river—unseen but for the myriad reflections that showed the ripples of the water; then the far-reaching rows of golden stars, spanning the bridges, and marking out the long Embankment sweep beyond St. Thomas's Hospital. On the other side black masses of houses—all their commonplace detail lost in the mysterious shadow; and over them the silver crescent of the moon just strong enough to give an edge of white to a tall shot-tower. Then far away in the east, in the clear dark sky, the dim gray ghost of a dome; scarcely visible, and yet revealing its presence; the great dome of St. Paul's.
This beautiful, still scene—the silence was so intense that the footfall of a cab-horse crossing Waterloo Bridge could be faintly heard, as the eye followed the light slowly moving between the two rows of golden stars—seemed to possess but little interest for the owner of these rooms. For the moment he had lost altogether his habitual air of proud reserve.
"Evelyn," he said, abruptly, "was it not in these very rooms you insisted that, if the work was good, one need not be too scrupulous about one's associates?"
"I believe so," said the other, indifferently: he had almost lost hope of ever overcoming his friend's inveterate suspicion.
"Well," Brand said, "there is something in that. I believe in the work that Lind is engaged in, if I am doubtful about him. And if it pleases you or him to say that I have joined you merely because I express sympathy, and promise to say nothing, well and good. But you: you are more than that?"
The question somewhat startled Lord Evelyn; and his pale face flushed a little.
"Oh yes," he said; "of course. I—I cannot precisely explain to you."
"I understand. But, if I did really join, I should at least have you for a companion."
Lord Evelyn turned and regarded him.
"If you were to join, it might be that you and I should never see each other again in this world. Have I not told you?—Your first pledge is that of absolute obedience; you have no longer a right to your own life; you become a slave, that others may be free."
"And you would have me place myself in the power of a man like Lind?" Brand exclaimed.
"If it were necessary," said Lord Evelyn, "I should hold myself absolutely at the bidding of Lind; for I am convinced he is an honest man, as he is a man of great ability and unconquerable energy and will. But you would no more put yourself in Lind's power than in mine. Lind is a servant, like the rest of us. It is true he has in some ways a sort of quasi-independent position, which I don't quite understand; but as regards the Society that I have joined, and that you would join, he is a servant, as you would be a servant. But what is the use of talking? Your temperament isn't fitted for this kind of work."
"I want to see my way clear," Brand said, almost to himself.
"Ah, that is just it; whereas, you must go blindfold."
Thereafter again silence. The moon had risen higher now; and the paths in the Embankment gardens just below them had grown gray in the clearer light. Lord Evelyn lay and watched the light of a hansom that was rattling along by the side of the river.
"Do you remember," said Brand, with a smile, "your repeating some verses here one night; and my suspecting you had borrowed the inspiration somewhere? My boy, I have found you out. What I guessed was true. I made bold to ask Miss Lind to read, that evening I came up with them from Dover."
"I know it," said Lord Evelyn, quietly.
"You have seen her, then?" was the quick question.
"No; she wrote to me."
"Oh, she writes to you?" the other said.
"Well, you see, I did not know her father had gone abroad, and I called. As a rule, she sees no one while her father is away; on the other hand, she will not say she is not at home if she is at home. So she wrote me a note of apology for refusing to see me; and in it she told me you had been very kind to them, and how she had tried to read, and had read very badly, because she feared your criticism—"
"I never heard anything like it!" Brand said; and then he corrected himself. "Well, yes, I have; I have heard you, Evelyn. You have been an admirable pupil."
"Now when I think of it," said his friend, putting his hand in his breast-pocket, "this letter is mostly about you, Brand. Let me see if there is anything in it you may not see. No; it is all very nice and friendly."
He was about to hand over the letter, when he stopped.
"I do believe," he said, looking at Brand, "that you are capable of thinking Natalie wrote this letter on purpose you should see it."
"Then you do me a great injustice," Brand said, without anger. "And you do her a great injustice. I do not think it needs any profound judge of character to see what that girl is."
"For that is one thing I could never forgive you, Brand."
"If you were to suspect Natalie Lind."
This was no private and confidential communication that passed into Brand's hand, but a frank, gossiping, sisterly note, stretching out beyond its initial purpose. And there was no doubt at all that it was mostly about Brand himself; and the reader grew red as he went on. He had been so kind to them at Dover; and so interested in her papa's work; and so anxious to be of service and in sympathy with them. And then she spoke as if he were definitely pledged to them; and how proud she was to have another added to the list of her friends. George Brand's face was as red as his beard when he folded up the letter. He did not immediately return it.
"What a wonderful woman that is!" said he, after a time. "I did not think it would be left for a foreigner to teach me to believe in England."
Lord Evelyn looked up.
"Oh," Brand said, instantly, "I know what you would ask: 'What is my belief worth?' 'How much do I sympathize?' Well, I can give you a plain answer: a shilling in the pound income-tax. If England is this stronghold of the liberties of Europe—if it is her business to be the lamp-bearer of freedom—if she must keep her shores inviolate as the refuge of those who are oppressed and persecuted, well, then, I would pay a shilling income-tax, or double that, treble that, to give her a navy that would sweep the seas. For a big army there is neither population, nor sustenance, nor room; but I would give her such a navy as would let her put the world to defiance."
"I wish Natalie would teach you to believe in a few other things while she is about it," said his friend, with a slight and rather sad smile.
"In human nature a little bit, for example. In the possibility of a woman being something else than a drawing-room peacock, or worse. Do you think she could make you believe that it is possible for a woman to be noble-minded, unselfish, truth-speaking, modest, and loyal-hearted?"
"I presume you are describing Natalie Lind herself."
"Oh," said his friend, with a quick surprise, "then you admit there may be an exception, after all? You do not condemn the whole race of them now, as being incapable of even understanding what frank dealing is, or honor, or justice, or anything beyond their own vain and selfish caprices?"
George Brand went to the window.
"Perhaps," said he, "my experience of women has been unfortunate, unusual. I have not had much chance, especially of late years, of studying them in their quiet domestic spheres. But otherwise I suppose my experience is not unusual. Every man begins his life, in his salad days, by believing the world to be a very fine thing, and women particularly to be very wonderful creatures—angels, in short, of goodness, and mercy, and truth, and all the rest of it. Then, judging by what I have seen and heard, I should say that about nineteen men out of twenty get a regular facer—just at the most sensitive period of their life; and then they suddenly believe that women are devils, and the world a delusion. It is bad logic; but they are not in a mood for reason. By-and-by the process of recovery begins: with some short, with others long. But the spring-time of belief, and hope, and rejoicing—I doubt whether that ever comes back."
He spoke without any bitterness. If the facts of the world were so, they had to be accepted.
"I swallowed my dose of experience a good many years ago," he continued, "but I haven't got it out of my blood yet. However, I will admit to you the possibility of there being a few women like Natalie Lind."
"Well, this is better, at all events," Lord Evelyn said, cheerfully.
"Beauty, of course, is a dazzling and dangerous thing," Brand said; "for a man always wants to believe that fine eyes and a sweet voice have a sweet soul behind them. And very often he finds behind them something in the shape of a soul that a dog or a cat would be ashamed to own. But as for Natalie Lind, I don't think one can be deceived. She shows too much. She vibrates too quickly—too inadvertently—to little chance touches. I did suspect her, I will confess. I thought she was hired to play the part of decoy. But I had not seen her for ten minutes before I was convinced she was playing no part at all."
"But goodness gracious, Brand, what are we coming to?" Lord Evelyn said, with a laugh. "What! We already believe in England, and patriotism, and the love of freedom? And we are prepared to admit that there is one woman—positively, in the world, one woman—who is not a cheat and a selfish coquette? Why, where are we to end?"
"I don't think I said only one woman," Brand replied, quite good-naturedly; and then he added, with a smile, "You ask where we are to end. Suppose I were to accept your new religion, Evelyn? Would that please you? And would it please her, too?"
"Ah!" said his companion, looking up with a quick glance of pleasure. But he would argue no more.
"Perhaps I have been too suspicious. It is a habit; I have had to look after myself pretty much through the world; and I don't overvalue the honesty of people I don't know. But when I once set my hand to the work, I am not likely to draw back."
"You could be of so much more value to them than I can," said Lord Evelyn, wistfully. "I don't suppose you spend more than half of your income."
"Oh, as to that," said Brand, at once, "that is a very different matter. If they like to take myself and what I can do, well and good; money is a very different thing."
His companion raised himself in his chair; and there was surprise on his face.
"How can you help them so well as with your money?" he cried. "Why, it is the very thing they want most."
"Oh, indeed!" said Brand, coldly. "You see, Evelyn, my father was a business man; and I may have inherited a commercial way of looking at things. If I were to give away a lot of money to unknown people, for unknown purposes, I should say that I was being duped, and that they were putting the money in their own pocket."
"My dear fellow!" Lord Evelyn protested; "the need of money is most urgent. There are printing-presses to be kept going; agents to be paid; police-spies to be bribed—there is an enormous work to be done, and money must be spent."
"All the same," said Brand, who was invariably most resolved when he was most quiet in his manner, "I shall prefer not running the chance of being duped in that direction. Besides, I am bound in honor not to do anything of the kind. I can fling myself away—this is my own lookout; and my life, or the way I spend it, is not of great consequence to me. But my father's property, if anything happens to me, ought to go intact to my sister's boys, to whom, indeed, I have left it by will. I will say to Lind, 'Is it myself or my money that is wanted: you must choose.'"
"The question would be an insult."
"Oh, do you think so? Very well; I will not ask it. But that is the understanding." Then he added, more lightly, "Why, would you have the Pilgrim start with his pocket full of sovereigns? His staff and his wallet are all he is entitled to. And when one is going to make a big plunge, shouldn't one strip?"
There was no answer; for Lord Evelyn's quick ear had caught the sound of wheels in the adjacent street.
"There is my trap," he said, looking at his watch as he rose.
Waters brought the young man his coat, and then went out to light him down-stairs.
"Good-night, Brand. Glad to see you are getting into a wholesomer frame of mind. I shall tell Natalie you are now prepared to admit that there is in the world at least one woman who is not a cheat."
"I hope you will not utter a word to Miss Lind of any of the nonsense we have been talking," said Brand, hastily, and with his face grown red.
"All right. By-the-way, when are you coming up to see the girls?"
"To-morrow afternoon: will that do?"
"Very well; I shall wait in."
"Let me see if I remember the order aright," said Brand, holding up his fingers and counting. "Rosalys, Blanche, Ermentrude, Agnes, Jane, Frances, Geraldine: correct?"
"Quite. I think their mother must forget at times. Well, good-night."
Brand returned to the empty room, and threw wide open one of the windows. The air was singularly mild for a night in March; but he had been careful of his friend. Then he dropped into an easy-chair, and opened a letter.
It was the letter from Natalie Lind, which he had held in his hand ever since, eagerly hoping that Evelyn would forget it—as, in fact, he had done. And now with what a strange interest he read and re-read it; and weighed all its phrases; and tried to picture her as she wrote these lines; and studied even the peculiarities of the handwriting. There was a quaint, foreign look here and there—the capital B, for example, was written in German fashion; and that letter occurred a good many times. It was Mr. Brand, and Mr. Brand, over and over again—in this friendly and frank gossip, which had all the brightness of a chat over a new acquaintance who interests one. He turned to the signature. "Your friend, Natalie."
Then he walked up and down, slowly and thoughtfully; but ever and again he would turn to the letter to see that he had quite accurately remembered what she had said about the delight of the sail from Calais, and the beautiful flowers at Dover and her gladness at the prospect of their having this new associate and friend. Then the handwriting again. The second stroke of the N in her name had a little notch at the top—German fashion. It looked a pretty name, as she wrote it.
Then he went to the window, and leaned on the brass bar, and looked out on the dark and sleeping world, with its countless golden points of fire. He remained there a long time, thinking—of the past, in which he had fancied his life was buried; of the present, with its bewildering uncertainties; of the future, with its fascinating dreams. There might be a future for him, then, after all; and hope; and the joy of companionship? Surely that letter meant at least so much.
But then the boundlessness, the eager impatience, of human wishes! Farther and farther, as he leaned and looked out, without seeing much of the wonderful spectacle before him, went his thoughts and eager hopes and desires. Companionship; but with whom? And might not the spring-time of life come back again, as it was now coming back to the world in the sweet new air that had begun to blow from the South? And what message did the soft night-wind bring him but the name of Natalie? And Natalie was written in the clear and shining heavens, in letters of fire and joy; and the river spoke of Natalie; and the darkness murmured Natalie.
But his heart, whispering to him—there, in the silence of the night, in the time when dreams abound, and visions of what may be—his heart, whispering to him, said—"Natalushka!"
When Ferdinand Lind looked out the next day from the window of his hotel, it was not at all the Venice of chromolithography that lay before him. The morning was wild, gray, and gloomy, with a blustering wind blowing down from the north; the broad expanse of green water ruffled and lashed by continual squalls; the sea-gulls wheeling and dipping over the driven waves; the dingy masses of shipping huddled along the wet and deserted quays; the long spur of the Lido a thin black line between the green sea and purple sky; and the domed churches over there, and the rows of tall and narrow and grumbling palaces overlooking the canals nearer at hand, all alike dismal and bedraggled and dark.
When he went outside he shivered; but at all events these cold, damp odors of the sea and the rainy wind were more grateful than the mustiness of the hotel. But the deserted look of the place! The gondolas, with their hearse-like coverings on, lay empty and untended by the steps, as if waiting for a funeral procession. The men had taken shelter below the archways, where they formed groups, silent, uncomfortable, sulky. The few passers-by on the wet quays hurried along with their voluminous black cloaks wrapped round their shoulders, and hiding most of the mahogany-colored faces. Even the plague of beggars had been dispersed; they had slunk away shivering into the foul-smelling nooks and crannies. There was not a soul to give a handful of maize to the pigeons in the Place of St. Mark.
But when Lind had got round into the Place, what was his surprise to find Calabressa having his breakfast in the open air at a small table in front of a cafe. He was quite alone there; but he seemed much content. In fact, he was laughing heartily, all to himself, at something he had been reading in the newspaper open before him.
"Well," said Lind, when they had exchanged salutations, "this is a pleasant sort of a morning for one to have one's breakfast outside!"
"My faith," said Calabressa, "if you had taken as many breakfasts as I have shut up in a hole, you would be glad to get the chance of a mouthful of fresh air. Sit down, my friend."
Lind glanced round, and then sat down.
"My good friend Calabressa," he said presently, "for one connected as you are with certain persons, do you not think now that your costume is a little conspicuous? And then your sitting out here in broad daylight—"
"My friend Lind," said he, with a laugh, "I am as safe here as if I were in Naples, which I believe to be the safest place in the world for one not in good odor with the authorities. And if there was a risk, would I not run it to hear my little nightingale over there when she opens the casements? Ah! she is the most charming Rosina in the world."
"Yes, yes," said Lind. "I am not speaking of you. But—the others. The police must guess you are not here for nothing."
"Oh, the others? Rest assured. The police might as well try to put their fingers on a globule of quicksilver. It is but three days since they left the Piazza del Popolo, Torre del Greco. To-morrow, if their business is finished to-night, they will vanish again; and I shall be dismissed."
"If their business is finished?" repeated Lind, absently. "Yes; but I should like to know why they have summoned me all the way from England. They cannot mean—"
"My dear friend Lind," said Calabressa, "you must not look so grave. Nothing that is going to happen is worth one's troubling one's self about. It is the present moment that is of consequence; and at the present moment I have a joke for you. You know Armfeldt, who is now at Berne: they had tried him only four times in Berlin; and there was only a little matter of nine years' sentence against him. Listen."
He took up the Osservatore, and read out a paragraph, stating that Dr. Julius Armfeldt had again been tried in contumaciam, and sentenced to a further term of two years' imprisonment, for seditious writing. Further, the publisher of his latest pamphlet, a citizen of Berne, had likewise been sentenced in his absence to twelve months' imprisonment.
"Do they think Armfeldt will live to be a centenarian, that they keep heaping up those sentences against him? Or is it as another inducement for him to go back to his native country and give himself up? It is a great joke, this childish proceeding; but a Government should not declare itself impotent. It is like the Austrians when they hanged you and the others in effigy. Now I remember, the little Natalushka was grieved that she was not born then; for she wished to see the spectacle, and to have killed the people who insulted her father."
"I am afraid it is no joke at all," Lind said, gloomily. "Those Swiss people are craven. What can you expect from a nation of hotel-waiters? They cringe before every bully in Europe; you will find that, if Bismarck insists, the Federal Council will expel Armfeldt from Switzerland directly. No; the only safe refuge nowadays for the reformers, the Protestants the pioneers of Europe, is England; and the English do not know it; they do not think of it. They are so accustomed to freedom that they believe that is the only possible condition, and that other nations must necessarily enjoy it. When you talk to them of tyranny, of political persecution, they laugh. They cannot understand such a thing existing. They fancy it ceased when Bomba's dungeons were opened."
"For my part," said Calabressa, lighting a cigarette, and calling for a small glass of cognac, "I am content with Naples."
"And the protection of pickpockets?"
"My friend," said the other, coolly, "if you refer to the most honorable the association of the Camorristi, I would advise you not to speak too loud."
Calabressa rose, having settled his score with the waiter.
"Allons!" said he. "What are you going to do to day?"
"I don't know," said Lind, discontentedly. "May the devil fly away with this town of Venice! I never come here but it is either freezing or suffocating."
"You are in an evil humor to-day, friend Lind; you have caught the English spleen. Come, I have a little business to do over at Murano; the breeze will do you good. And I will tell you the story of my escape."
The time had to be passed somehow. Lind walked with his companion along to the steps, descended, and jumped into a gondola, and presently they were shooting out into the turbulent green water that the wind drove against the side of the boat in a succession of sharp shocks. Seated in the little funereal compartment, they could talk without much fear of being heard by either of the men; and Calabressa began his tale. It was not romantic. It was simply a case of bribery; the money to effect which had certainly not come out of Calabressa's shallow pockets. In the midst of the story—or, at least, before the end of it—Lind said, in a low voice,
"Calabressa, have you any sure grounds for what you said about Zaccatelli?"
His companion glanced quickly outside.
"It is you are now indiscreet," he said, in an equally low voice. "But yes; I think that is the business. However," he added, in a gayer tone, "what matter? To-day is not to-morrow; to-morrow will shift for itself." And therewith he continued his story, though his listener seemed singularly preoccupied and thoughtful.
They arrived at the island, got out, and walked into the court-yard of one of the smaller glass-works. There were one or two of the workmen passing; and here something occurred that seemed to arrest Lind's attention.
"What, here also?" said he, in a low voice.
"Every one; the master included. It is with him I have to do this little piece of business. Now you will be so good as to wait for a short time, will you not?—and it is warm in there; I will be with you soon."
Lind walked into the large workshop, where there were a number of people at work, all round the large, circular, covered caldron, the various apertures into which sent out fierce rays of light and heat. He walked about, seemingly at his ease; looking at the apprentices experimenting; chatting to the workmen. And at last he asked one of these to make for him a little vase in opalescent glass, that he could take to his daughter in England; and could he put the letter N on it somewhere? It was at least some occupation, watching the quick and dexterous handling under which the little vase grew into form, and had its decoration cleverly pinched out, and its tiny bits of color added. The letter N was not very successful; but then Natalie would know that her father had been thinking of her at Venice.
This excursion at all events tided over the forenoon; and when the two companions returned to the wet and disconsolate city, Calabressa was easily persuaded to join his friend in some sort of mid-day meal. After that, the long-haired albino-looking person took his leave, having arranged how Lind was to keep the assignation for that evening.
The afternoon cleared up somewhat; but Ferdinand Lind seemed to find it dull enough. He went out for an aimless stroll through some of the narrow back streets, slowly making his way among the crowd that poured along these various ways. Then he returned to his hotel, and wrote some letters. Then he dined early; but still the time did not seem to pass. He resolved on getting through an hour or so at the theatre.
A gondola swiftly took him away through the labyrinth of small and gloomy canals, until at length the wan orange glare shining out into the night showed him that he was drawing near one of the entrances to the Fenice. If he had been less preoccupied—less eager to think of nothing but how to get the slow hours over—he might have noticed the strangeness of the scene before him: the successive gondolas stealing silently up through the gloom to the palely lit stone steps; the black coffins appearing to open; and then figures in white and scarlet opera-cloaks getting out into the dim light, to ascend into the brilliant glare of the theatre staircase. He, too, followed, and got into the place assigned to him. But this spectacular display failed to interest him. He turned to the bill, to remind him what he had to see. The blaze of color on the stage—the various combinations of movement—the resounding music—all seemed part of a dream; and it annoyed him somehow. He rose and left.
The intervening time he spent chiefly in a cafe close by the theatre, where he smoked cigarettes and appeared to read the newspapers. Then he wandered away to the spot appointed for him to meet a particular gondola, and arrived there half an hour too soon. But the gondola was there also. He jumped in and was carried away through the silence of the night.
When he arrived at the door, which was opened to him by Calabressa, he contrived to throw off, by a strong effort of will, any appearance of anxiety. He entered and sat down, saying only,
Calabressa laughed slightly; and went to a cupboard, and brought forth a bottle and two small glasses.
"If you were Zaccatelli," he said, "I would say to you, 'My Lord,' or 'Your Excellency,' or whatever they call those flamingoes with the bullet heads, 'I would advise you to take a little drop of this very excellent cognac, for you are about to hear something, and you will need steady nerves.' Meanwhile, Brother Lind, it is not forbidden to you and me to have a glass. The Council provide excellent liquor."
"Thank you, I have no need of it," said Lind, coldly. "What do you mean about Zaccatelli?"
"This," said the other, filling himself out a glass of the brandy, and then proceeding to prepare a cigarette. "If the moral scene of the country, too long outraged, should determine to punish the Starving Cardinal, I believe he will get a good year's notice to prepare for his doom. You perceive? What harm does sudden death to a man? It is nothing. A moment of pain; and you have all the happiness of sleep, indifference, forgetfulness. That is no punishment at all: do you perceive?"
Calabressa continued, airily—
"People are proud when they say they do not fear death. The fools! What has any one to fear in death? To the poor it means no more hunger, no more imprisonment, no more cold and sickness, no more watching of your children when they are suffering and you cannot help; to the rich it means no more triumph of rivals, and envy, and jealousy; no more sleepless nights and ennui of days; no more gout, and gravel, and the despair of growing old. Death! It is the great emancipation. And people talk of the punishment of death!"
He gave a long whistle of contempt.
"But," said he, with a smile, "it is a little bit different if you have to look forward to your death on a certain fixed day. Then you begin to overvalue things—a single hour of life becomes something."
He added, in a tone of affected condolence—
"Then one wouldn't wish to cause any poor creature to say his last adieux without some preparation. And in the case of a cardinal, is a year too little for repentance? Oh, he will put it to excellent use."
"Very well, very well," said Ferdinand Lind, with an impatient frown gathering over the shaggy eyebrows. "But I want to know what I have to do with all this?"
"Brother Lind," said the other, mildly, "if the Secretary Granaglia, knowing that I am a friend of yours, is so kind as to give me some hints of what is under discussion, I listen, but I ask no questions. And you—I presume you are here not to protest, but to obey."
"Understand me, Calabressa: it was only to you as a friend that I spoke," said Lind, gravely. And then he added, "The Council will not find, at all events, that I am recusant."
A few minutes afterward the bell rung, and Calabressa jumped to his feet; while Lind, in spite of himself, started. Presently the portiere was drawn aside, and the little sallow-complexioned man whom he had seen on the previous evening entered the room. On this occasion, however, Calabressa was motioned to withdraw, and immediately did so. Lind and the stranger were left together.
"I need scarcely inform you, Brother Lind," said he, in a slow and matter-of-fact way, "that I am the authorized spokesman of the Council."
As he said this, for a moment he rested his hand on the table. There was on the forefinger a large ring, with a red stone in it, engraved. Lind bowed acquiescence.
"Calabressa has no doubt informed you of the matter before the Council. That is now decided; the decree has been signed. Zaccatelli dies within a year from this day. The motives which have led to this decision may hereafter be explained to you, even if they have not already occurred to you; they are motives of policy, as regards ourselves and the progress of our work, as well as of justice."
Ferdinand Lind listened, without response.
"It has further been decided that the blow be struck from England."
"England!" was the involuntary exclamation.
"Yes," said the other, calmly. "To give full effect to such a warning it must be clear to the world that it has nothing to do with any private revenge or low intrigue. Assassination has been too frequent in Italy of late. The doubting throughout the world must be convinced that we have agents everywhere; and that we are no mere local society for the revenging of private wrongs."
Lind again bowed assent.
"Further," said the other, regarding him, "the Council charge you with the execution of the decree."
Lind had almost expected this: he did not flinch.
"After twelve months' grace granted, you will be prepared with a sure and competent agent who will give effect to the decree of the Council; failing such a one, the duty will devolve on your own shoulders."
"On mine!" he was forced to exclaim. "Surely—"
"Do you forget," said the other, calmly, "that sixteen years ago your life was forfeited, and given back to you by the Council?"
"So I understood," said Lind. "But it was not my life that was given me then!—only the lease of it till the Council should claim it again. However!"
He drew himself up, and the powerful face was full of decision.
"It is well," said he. "I do not complain. If I exact obedience from others, I, too, obey. The Council shall be served."
"Further instructions shall be given you. Meanwhile, the Council once more thank you for your attendance. Farewell, brother!"
When he had gone, and the bell again rung, Calabressa reappeared. Lind was too proud a man to betray any concern.
"It is as you told me, Calabressa," said he, carelessly, as his friend proceeded to light him down the narrow staircase. "And I am charged with the execution of their vengeance. Well; I wish I had been present at their deliberations, that is all. This deed may answer so far as the continental countries are concerned; but, so far as England is concerned, it will undo the work of years."
"What!—England!" exclaimed Calabressa, lightly—"where they blow up a man's house with gunpowder, or dash vitriol in his face, if he works for a shilling a day less wages?—where they shoot landlords from behind hedges if the rent is raised?—where they murder policemen in the open street, to release political prisoners? No, no, friend Lind; I cannot believe that."
"However, that is not my business, Calabressa. The Council shall be obeyed. I am glad to know you are again at liberty; when you come to England you will see how your little friend Natalie has grown."
"Give a kiss from me to the little Natalushka," said he, cheerfully; and then the two parted.
JACTA EST ALEA.
"Natalie," said her father, entering the breakfast-room, "I have news for you to-day. This evening Mr. Brand is to be initiated."
The beautiful, calm face betrayed no surprise.
"That is always the way," she answered, almost absently. "One after the other they go in; and I only am left out, alone."
"What," he said, patting her shoulder as he passed, "are you still dreaming of reviving the Giardiniere? Well, it was a pretty idea to call each sister in the lodge by the name of a flower. But nowadays, and in England especially, if women intermeddled in such things, do you know what they would be called? Petroleuses!"
"Names do not hurt," said the girl, proudly.
"No, no. Rest content, Natalie. You are initiated far enough. You know all that needs to be known; and you can work with us, and associate with us like the rest. But about Brand; are you not pleased?"
"I am indeed pleased, papa."
"And I am more than pleased," said Lind, thoughtfully. "He will be the most important accession we have had for many a day. Ah, you women have sharp eyes; but there are some things you cannot see—there are some men whose character you cannot read."
Natalie glanced up quickly; and her father noticed that surprised look.
"Well," said he, with a smile, "what now is your opinion of Mr. Brand?"
Instantly the soft eyes were cast down again, and a faint tinge of color appeared in her face.
"Oh, my opinion, papa?" said she, as if to gain time to choose her words. "Well, I should call him manly, straightforward—and—and very kind—and—and very English—"
"I understand you perfectly, Natalie," her father said, with a laugh. "You and Lord Evelyn are quite in accord. Yes, and you are both thoroughly mistaken. You mean, by his being so English, that he is cold, critical, unsympathetic: is it not so? You resent his being cautious about joining us. You think he will be but a lukewarm associate—suspecting everything—fearful about going too far—a half-and-half ally. My dear Natalie, that is because neither Lord Evelyn nor you know anything at all about that man."
The faint color in the girl's cheeks had deepened; and she remained silent, with her face downcast.
"The pliable ones," her father continued, "the people who are moved by fine talking, who are full of amiable sentiments, and who take to work like ours as an additional sentiment—you may initiate a thousand of them, and not gain an atom of strength. It is a hard head that I want, and a strong will; a man determined to have no illusions at the outset; a man who, once pledged, will not despair or give up in the face of failure, difficulty, or disappointment, or anything else. Brand is such a man. If I were to be disabled to-morrow, I would rather leave my work in his hands than in the hands of any man I have seen in this country."
Was it to hide the deepening color in her face that the girl went round to her father, and stood rather behind him, and put her hand on his shoulder, and stooped down to his ear.
"Papa," said she, "I—I hope you don't think I have been saying anything against Mr. Brand. Oh no. How could I do that—when he has been so kind to us—and—and just now especially, when he is about to become one of us? You must forget what I said about his being English, papa; after all, it is not for us to say that being English is anything else than being kind, and generous, and hospitable. And I am exceedingly pleased that you have got another associate, and that we have got another good friend, in England."
"Alors, as Calabressa would say, you can show that you are pleased, Natalie," her father said, lightly, "by going and writing a pretty little note, asking your new friend, Mr. Brand, to dine with us to-night, after the initiation is over, and I will ask Evelyn, if I see him."
But this proposal in no wise seemed to lessen the girl's embarrassment. She still clung about the back of her father's chair.
"I would rather not do that, papa," said she, after a second.
"Why? why?" said he.
"Would it not look less formal for you to ask him, papa? You see, it is once or twice that we have asked him to dine with us without giving him proper notice—"
"Oh, that is nothing—nothing at all. A bachelor with an evening disengaged is glad enough to fill it up anyhow. Well, if you would rather not write, Natalie, I will ask him myself."