"Thank you, papa," said she, apparently much relieved, and therewith she went back to her seat, and her father turned to his newspaper.
The day passed, and the evening came. As six o'clock was striking, George Brand presented himself at the little door in Lisle street, Soho, and was admitted. Lind had already assured him that, as far as England was concerned, no idle mummeries were associated with the ceremony of initiation; to which Brand had calmly replied, that if mummeries were considered necessary, he was as ready as any one to do his part of the business. Only he added that he thought the unknown powers had acted wisely—so far as England was concerned—in discarding such things.
When he entered the room, his first glance round was reassuring. There were six persons present besides Lind, and they did not at all suggest the typical Leicester Square foreigner. On the contrary, he guessed that four out of the six were either English or Irish; and two of them he recognized, though they were unknown to him personally. The one was a Home Rule M.P., ferocious enough in the House of Commons, but celebrated as the most brilliant, and amiable, and fascinating of diners-out; the other was an Oxford don, of large fortune and wildly Radical views, who wrote a good deal in the papers. There was a murmur of conversation going on, which ceased as Lind briefly introduced the new-comer.
The ceremony, if ceremony it could be called, was simple enough. The candidate for admission was required to sign a printed document, solemnly pledging himself to devote his life, and the labor of his hands and brain, to the work of the association; to implicitly obey any command reaching him from the Council, or communicated through an officer of the first degree; and to preserve inviolable secrecy. Brand read this paper through twice, and signed it. It was then signed by the seven witnesses. He was further required to inscribe his signature in a large volume, which contained a list of members of a particular section. That done, the six strangers present shook him by the hand, and left.
He looked round surprised. Had he been dreaming during these brief five minutes? Yet he could hear the noise of their going down-stairs.
"Well," said Mr. Lind, with a smile, "it is not a very terrible ceremony, is it? Did you expect prostrations at the altar; and blindfold gropings, and the blessing of the dagger? When you come to know a little more of our organization, of its extent and its power, you will understand how we can afford to dispense with all those theatrical ways of frightening people into obedience and secrecy."
"I expected to find Evelyn here," said George Brand. He was in truth, just a little bit bewildered as yet. He had been assured that there would be no foolish mummeries or fantastic rites of initiation; but all the same he had been much occupied with this step he was about to take; he had been thinking of it much; he had been looking forward to something unknown; and he had been nerving himself to encounter whatever might come before him. But that five minutes of silence; the quick reading and signing of a paper; the sudden dispersion of the small assemblage: he could scarcely believe it was all real.
"No," Lind said, "Lord Evelyn is not yet an officer. He is only a Companion in the third degree, like yourself."
"A Companion in the third degree. Surely you read the document that you signed?"
It was still lying on the table before him. He took it up; yes, he certainly was so designated there. Yet he could not remember seeing the phrase, though he had, before signing, read every word twice over.
"And now, Mr. Brand," his companion said, seating himself at the other side of the table, "when you have got over your surprise that there should be no ceremony, it will become my duty to give you some idea—some rough idea—of the mechanism and aims of our association, and to show you in what measure we are allied with other societies. The details you will become acquainted with by-and-by; that will be a labor of time. And you know, of course, or you have guessed, that there are no mysteries to be revealed to you, no profound religious truths to be communicated, no dogmas to be accepted. I am afraid we are very degenerate descendants of the Mystics, and the Illuminati, and all the rest of them; we have become prosaic; our wants are sadly material. And yet we have our dreams and aspirations, too; and the virtues that we exact—obedience, temperance, faith, self-sacrifice—are not ignoble. Meanwhile, to begin. I think you may prepare yourself to be astonished."
But astonishment was no word for the emotion experienced by the newly admitted member when Ferdinand Lind proceeded to give him, with careful facts and sober computations, some rough outline of the extent and power of this intricate and far-reaching organization. Hitherto the word "International" had with him been associated with the ridiculous fiasco at Geneva; but here was something, not calling itself international, which aimed at nothing less than knitting together the multitudes of the nations, not only in Europe, but in the English and French and German speaking territories beyond the seas, in a solemn league—a league for self-protection and mutual understanding, for the preservation of international peace, the spread of knowledge, the outbraving of tyranny, the defiance of religious intolerance, the relief of the oppressed, the help of the poor, and the sick, and the weak. This was no cutthroat conspiracy or wild scheme of confiscation and plunder; but a design for the establishment of wide and beneficent law—a law which should protect, not the ambition of kings, not the pride of armies, not the revenues of priests, but the rights and the liberties of those who were "darkening in labor and pain." And this message, that could go forth alike to the Camorristi and the Nihilists; to the Free Masons and the Good Templars; to the Trades-unionists and the Knights of Labor—to all those masses of men moved by the spirit of co-operation—"See, brothers, what we have to show you. Some of you are aiming at chaos and perdition; others putting wages as their god and sovereign; others content with a vague philanthropy almost barren of results. This is all the help we want of you—to pledge yourselves to associate with us, to accept our modest programme of actual needs, to give help to those who are in want or trouble, to promise that you will stand by us in the time to come. And when the time does come; when we are combined; when knowledge is abroad, and mutual trust, who will say 'yes' if the voice of the people in every nation murmurs 'No?' What priest will reimpose the Inquisition on us; what king drive us to shed blood that his robes may have the richer dye; what policeman in high places endeavor to stamp out our God-given right of free speech? It is so little for you to grant; it is so much for you, and for us, to gain!"
These were not the words he uttered—for Lind spoke English slowly and carefully—but they were the spirit of his words. And as he went on describing to this new member what had already been done, what was being done, and the great possibilities of the future, Brand began to wonder whether all this gigantic scheme, with its simple, bold, and practical outlines, were the work of this one man. He ventured by-and-by to hint at some such question.
"Mine?" Lind said, frankly, "Ah no! not the inspiration of it. I am only the mechanic putting brick and brick together; the design is not mine, nor that of any one man. It is an aggregate project—a speculation occupying many a long hour of imprisonment—a scheme to be handed from one to the other, with alterations and suggestions."
"But even your share of it—how can one man control so much?" Brand said; for he easily perceived what a mass of detail had to pass through this man's hands.
"I will tell you," said the other. "Because every stone added to the building is placed there for good. There is no looking back. There are no pacifications of revolt. No questions; but absolute obedience. You see, we exact so little: why should any one rebel? However, you will learn more and more as you go on; and soon your work will be appointed you. Meanwhile, I thank you, brother."
Lind rose and shook his hand.
"Now," said he, "that is enough of business. It occurred to me this morning that, if you had nothing else to do this evening, you might come and dine with us, and give Natalie the chance of meeting you in your new character."
"I shall be most pleased," said Brand; and his face flushed.
"I telegraphed to Evelyn. If he is in town, perhaps he will join us. Shall we walk home?"
"If you like."
So they went out together into the glare and clamor of the streets. George Brand's heart was very full with various emotions; but, not to lose altogether his English character, he preserved a somewhat critical tone as he talked.
"Well, Mr. Lind," he said, "so far as I can see and hear, your scheme has been framed not only with great ability, but also with a studied moderation and wisdom. The only point I would urge is this—that, in England, as little as possible should be said about kings and priests. A great deal of what you said would scarcely be understood here. You see, in England it is not the Crown nowadays which instigate or insists on war; it is Parliament and the people. Dynastic ambitions do not trouble us. There is no reason whatever why we here should hate kings when they are harmless."
"You are right; the case is different," Lind admitted. "But that makes adhesion to our programme all the easier."
"I was only speaking of the police of mentioning things which might alarm timid people. Then as for the priests; it may be the interest of the priests in Ireland to keep the peasantry ignorant; but it is certainly not so in England. The Church of England fosters education—"
"Are not your clergymen the bitterest enemies of the School Board schools?"
"Well, they may dislike seeing education dissociated from religion—that is natural, considering what they believe; but they are not necessary enemies of education. Perhaps I am a very young member to think of making such a suggestion. But the truth is, that when an ordinary Englishman hears anything said against kings and priests, he merely thinks of kings and priests as he knows them—and as being mostly harmless creatures nowadays—and concludes that you are a Communist wanting to overturn society altogether."
"Precisely so. I told Natalie this morning that if she were to be allowed to join our association her English friends would imagine her to be petroleuse."
"Miss Lind is not in the association?" Brand said, quickly.
"As yet no women have been admitted. It is a difficulty; for in some societies with which we are partly in alliance women are members. Ah, such noble creatures many of them are, too! However, the question may come forward by-and-by. In the mean time, Natalie, without being made aware of what we are actually doing—that, of course, is forbidden—knows something of what our work must be, and is warm in her sympathy. She is a good help, too: she is the quickest translator we have got."
"Do you think," Brand said, somewhat timidly, but with a frown on his face, "that it is fair to put such tedious labor on the shoulders of a young girl? Surely there are enough of men to do the work?"
"You shall propose that to her yourself," Lind said laughing.
Well, they arrived at the house in Curzon Street, and, when they went up-stairs to the drawing-room, they found Lord Evelyn there. Natalie Lind came forward—with less than usual of her graciously self-possessed manner—and shook hands with him briefly, and said, with averted look,
"I am glad to see you, Mr. Brand."
Now, as her eyes were cast down, it was impossible that she could have noticed the quick expression of disappointment that crossed his face. Was it that she herself was instantly conscious of the coldness of her greeting, and anxious to atone for that? Was it that she plucked up heart of grace? At all events, she suddenly offered him both her hands with a frank courage; she looked him in the face with the soft, tender, serious eyes; and then, before she turned away, the low voice said,
"Brother, I welcome you!"
After a late, cold, and gloomy spring, a glimpse of early summer shone over the land; and after a long period of anxious and oftentimes irritating and disappointing travail—in wet and dismal towns, in comfortless inns, with associates not always to his liking—George Brand was hurrying to the South. Ah, the thought of it, as the train whirled along on this sunlit morning! After the darkness, the light; after fighting, peace; after the task-work, a smile of reward! No more than that was his hope; but it was a hope that kept his heart afire and glad on many a lonely night.
At length his companion, who had slept steadily on ever since they had entered the train at Carlisle, at about one in the morning, awoke, rubbed his eyes, and glanced at the window.
"We are going to have a fine day at last, Humphreys," said Brand.
"They have been having better weather in the South, sir."
The man looked like a well-dressed mechanic. He had an intelligent face, keen and hard. He spoke with the Newcastle burr.
"I wish you would not call me 'sir,'" Brand said, impatiently.
"It comes natural, somehow, sir," said the other, with great simplicity. "There is not a man in any part of the country, but would say 'sir' to one of the Brands of Darlington. When Mr. Lind telegraphed to me you were coming down, I telegraphed back, 'Is he one of the Brands of Darlington?' and when I got his answer I said to myself, 'Here is the man to go to the Political Committee of the Trades-union Congress: they won't fight shy of him.'"
"Well, we have no great cause to grumble at what has been done in that direction; but that infernal Internationale is doing a deal of mischief. There is not a trades-unionist in the country who does not know what is going on in France. A handful of irresponsible madmen trying to tack themselves on to the workmen's association—well, surely the men will have more sense than to listen. The congres ouvrier to change its name, and to become the congres revolutionnaire! When I first went to Jackson, Molyneux, and the others, I found they had a sort of suspicion that we wanted to make Communists of them and tear society to pieces."
"You have done more in a couple of months, sir, than we all have done in the last ten years," his companion said.
"That is impossible. Look at—"
He named some names, certain of them well known enough.
The other shook his head.
"Where we have been they don't believe in London professors, and speech-makers, and chaps like that. They know that the North is the backbone and the brain of England, and in the North they want to be spoken to by a North-countryman."
"I am a Buckinghamshire man."
"That may be where you live, sir: but you are one of the Brands of Darlington," said the other, doggedly.
By-and-by they entered the huge, resounding station.
"What are you going to do to-night, Humphreys? Come and have some dinner with me, and we will look in afterward at the Century."
Humphreys looked embarrassed for a moment.
"I was thinking of going to the Coger's Hall, sir," said he, hitting upon an excuse. "I have heard some good speaking there."
"Mostly bunkum, isn't it?"
"All right. Then I shall see you to-morrow morning in Lisle Street. Good-bye."
He jumped into a hansom, and was presently rattling away through the busy streets. How sweet and fresh was the air, even here in the midst of the misty and golden city! The early summer was abroad; there was a flush of green on the trees in the squares. When he got down to the Embankment, he was quite surprised by the beauty of the gardens; there were not many gardens in the towns he had chiefly been living in.
He dashed up the narrow wooden stairs.
"Look alive now, Waters: get my bath ready."
"It is ready, sir."
"Whenever you please, sir."
He took off his dust-smothered travelling-coat, and was about to fling it on the couch, when he saw lying there two pieces of some brilliant stuff that were strange to him.
"What are these things?"
"They were left, sir, by Mr. ——, of Bond Street, on approval. He will call this afternoon."
"Tell him to go to the devil!" said Brand, briefly, as he walked off into his bedroom.
Presently he came back.
"Stay a bit," said he; and he took up the two long strips of silk-embroidered stuff—Florentine work, probably, of about the end of the sixteenth century. The ground was a delicate yellowish-gray, with an initial letter worked in various colors over it. Mr. ——, of Bond Street, knew that Brand had often amused his idle hours abroad in picking up things like this, chiefly as presents to lady friends, and no doubt thought they would be welcome enough, even for bachelors' rooms.
"Tell him I will take them."
"But the price, sir?"
"Ask him his price; beat him down; and keep the difference."
After bath and breakfast there was an enormous pile of correspondence awaiting him; for not a single letter referring to his own affairs had been forwarded to him for over two months. He had thrown his entire time and care into his work in the North. And now that these arrears had to be cleared off, he attacked the business with an obvious impatience. Formerly he had been used to dawdle over his letters, getting through a good portion of the forenoon with them and conversations with Waters about Buckinghamshire news. Now, even with that omniscient factotum by his side, his progress was slow, simply because he was hurried. He made dives here and there, without system, without settlement. At last, looking at his watch, he jumped up; it was half-past eleven.
"Some other time, Waters—some other time; the man must wait," he said to the astonished but patient person beside him. "If Lord Evelyn calls, tell him I shall look in at the Century to-night."
Some half-hour thereafter he was standing in Park Lane, his heart beating somewhat quickly, his eyes fixed eagerly on two figures that were crossing the thoroughfare lower down to one of the gates leading into Hyde Park. These were Natalie Lind and the little Anneli. He had known that he would see her thus; he had imagined the scene a thousand times; he had pictured to himself every detail—the trees, the tall railings, the spring flowers in the plots, and the little rosy-cheeked German girl walking by her mistress's side; and yet, now that this familiar thing had come true, he trembled to behold it; he breathed quickly; he could not go forward to her and hold out his hand. Slowly, for they were walking slowly, he went along to the gate and entered after them; cautiously, lest she should turn suddenly and confront him with her eyes; drawn, and yet fearing to follow. She was talking with some animation to her companion; though even in this profound silence he could not hear the sound of her voice. But he could see the beautiful oval of her face! and sometimes, when she turned with a laugh to the little Anneli, he caught a glimpse of the black eyes and eyelashes, the smiling lips and brilliant teeth; and once or twice she put out the palm of her right hand with a little gesture which, despite her English dress, would have told a stranger that she was of foreign ways. But the look of welcome, the smile of reward that he had been looking forward to?
Well, Mr. Lind was in America; and during his absence his daughter saw but few visitors. There was no particular reason why, supposing that George Brand met Natalie in the street, he should not go up and shake hands with her; and many a time, in these mental pictures of his of her morning walk with the rosy-cheeked Anneli, he imagined himself confronting her under the shadow of the trees, and perhaps walking some way with her, to listen once more to the clear, low vibrations of her musical voice. But no sooner had he seen her come into Park Lane—the vision became real—than he felt he could not go up and speak to her. If he had met her by accident, perhaps he might; but to watch her, to entrap her, to break in on her wished-for isolation under false pretences—all that he suddenly felt to be impossible. He could follow her with his heart; but the sound of her voice, the touch of her hand, the smile of her calm, beautiful, dark eyes, were as remote for him as if she, too, were beyond the broad Atlantic.
He was not much given to introspection and analysis; daring the past two months more especially he had been far too busy to be perpetually asking "Why? why?"—the vice of indolence. It was enough that, in the cold and the wet, there was a fire in his heart that kept him glad with thinking of the fair days to come; and that, in the foggy afternoons or the lonely nights when he was alone, and perhaps despondent or impatient over the stupidity or the contumacy he had had to encounter, there came to him the soft murmur of a voice from far away—proud, sad, and yet full of consolation and hope:
"—But ye that might be clothed with all things pleasant, Ye are foolish that put off the fair soft present, That clothe yourself 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 could hear her voice: he could see the beautiful face grow pale with its proud fervor; he could feel the soft touch of her hand when she came forward and said, "Brother, I welcome you!"
And now that she was there before him, the gladness in his heart at the mere sight of her was troubled with a trembling fear and pain. She was but a stone's-throw in front of him; but she seemed far away. The world was young around her; and she belonged to the time of youth and of hope; life, that he had been ready to give up as a useless and aimless thing, was only opening out before her, full of a thousand beauties, and wonders, and possibilities. If only he could have taken her hand, and looked into her eyes, and claimed that smile of welcome, he would have been nearer to her. Surely, in one thing at least they were in sympathy. There was a bond between them. If the past had divided them, the future would bring them more together. Did not the Pilgrims go by in bands, until death struck down its victims here and there?
Natalie knew nothing of all this vague longing, and doubt, and pain in the breast of one who was so near her. She was in a gay mood. The morning was beautiful; the soft wind after the rain brought whiffs of scent from the distant rose-red hawthorn. Though she was here under shadow of the trees, the sun beyond shone on the fresh and moist grass; and at the end of the glades there were glimpses of brilliant color in the foliage—the glow of the laburnum, the lilac blaze of the rhododendron bushes. And how still the place was! Far off there was a dull roar of carriages in Piccadilly; but here there was nothing but the bleating of the sheep, the chirp of the young birds, the stir of the wind among the elms. Sometimes he could now catch the sound of her voice.
She was in a gay humor. When she got to the Serpentine—the north bank was her favorite promenade; she could see on the other side, just below the line of leaves, the people passing and repassing on horseback; but she was not of them—she found a number of urchins wading. They had no boat; but they had the bung of a barrel, which served, and that they were pushing through the water with twigs and sticks; their shapeless boots they had left on the bank. Now, as it seemed to Brand, who was watching from a distance, she planned a scheme. Anneli was seen to go ahead of the boys, and speak to them. Their attention being thus distracted, the young mistress stepped rapidly down to the tattered boots, and dropped something in each. Then she withdrew, and was rejoined by her maid; they walked away without waiting to see the result of their machinations. But George Brand, following by-and-by, heard one of the urchins call out with wonder that he had found a penny in his shoe; and this extraordinary piece of news brought back his comrades, who rather mechanically began to examine their footgear too. And then the amazement!—and the looks around!—and the examination of the pence, lest that treasure should vanish away! Brand went up to them.
"Look hear you young stupids; don't you see that tall lady away along there by the boat-house—why don't you go and thank her?"
But they were either too shy or too incredulous; so he left them. He did not forget the incident.
Perhaps it was that the heavens had grown dark in the southwest, threatening a shower; but, at all events, Natalie soon returned and set out on her homeward way, giving this unknown spy some trouble to escape observation. But when she had passed, he again followed, now with even greater unrest and pain at his heart. For would not she soon disappear, and the outer world grow empty, and the dull hours have to be faced? He had come to London with such hope and gladness; now the very sunlight was to be taken out of his life by the shutting of a door in Curzon Street.
Fate, however, was kinder to him than he had dared to hope. As Natalie was returning home, he ventured to draw a little nearer to her, but still with the greatest caution, for he would have been overcome with shame if she had detected him dogging her footsteps in this aimless, if innocent manner. And now that she had got close to her own door, he had drawn nearer still—on the other side of the street; he so longed to catch one more glimpse of the dark eyes smiling, and the mobile, proud mouth. But just as the door was being opened from within, a man who had evidently been watching his chance thrust himself before the two women, barring their way, and proceeded to address Natalie in a vehement, gesticulating fashion, with much clinching of his fists and throwing out of his arms. Anneli had shrunk back a step, for the man was uncouth and unkempt; but the young mistress stood erect and firm, confronting the beggar, or madman, or whoever he was, without the slightest sign of fear.
This was enough for George Brand. He was not thrusting himself unfairly on her seclusion if he interposed to protect her from menace. Instantly he crossed the road.
"Who are you? What do you want?" This was what he said; but what he did was to drive the man back a couple of yards.
A hand was laid on his arm quickly.
"He is in trouble," Natalie said, calmly. "He wants to see papa; he has come a long way; he does not understand that papa is in America. If you could only convince him—But you do not talk Russian."
"I can talk English," said Brand, regarding the maniac-looking person before him with angry brows. "Will you go indoors, Miss Lind, and leave him to me. I will talk an English to him that he will understand."
"Is that the way you answer an appeal for help?" said she, with gentle reproof. "The man is in trouble. If I persuade him to go with you, will you take him to papa's chambers? Either Beratinsky or Heinrich Reitzei will be there."
"Reitzei is there."
"He will hear what this man has to say. Will you be so kind?"
"I will do anything to rid you of this fellow, who looks more like a madman than a beggar."
She stepped forward and spoke to the man again—her voice sounded gentle and persuasive to Brand, in this tongue which he could not understand. When she had finished, the uncouth person in the tattered garments dropped on both knees on the pavement, and took her hand in his, and kissed it in passionate gratitude. Then he rose, and stood with his cap in his hand.
"He will go with you. I am so sorry to trouble you, Mr. Brand; and I have not even said, 'How do you do?'"
To hear this beautiful voice after so long a silence—to find those calm, dark, friendly eyes regarding him—bewildered him, or gave him courage, he knew not which. He said to her, with a quick flush on his forehead,
"May I come back to tell you how I succeed?"
She only hesitated for a second.
"If you have time. If you care to take the trouble."
He carried away with him the look of her face—that filled his heart with sunlight. In the hansom, into which he bundled his unkempt companion, if only he had known enough Russian, he would have expressed gratitude to him. Beggar or maniac, or whatever he was, had he not been the means of procuring for George Brand that long-coveted, long-dreamed-of smile of welcome?
A RUSSIAN EPISODE.
"Is that the way you answer an appeal for help?" With that gentle protest still lingering in his ear, he was not inclined to be hard on this unfortunate wretch who was in the cab with him; and yet at the same time he was resolved to prevent any repetition of the scene he had just witnessed. At the last he discovered that the man had picked up in his wanderings a little German. His own German was not first-rate; it was fluent, forcible, and accurate enough, so far as hotels and railway-stations were concerned; elsewhere it had a tendency to halt, blunder, and double back on itself. But, at all events, he managed to convey to his companion the distinct intimation that any further troubling of that young lady would only procure for him broken head.
The dull, stupid, savage-looking face betrayed no sign of intelligence. He repeated the warning again and again; and at last, at the phrase "that young lady," the dazed small eyes lit up somewhat, and the man clasped his hands.
"Ein Engel!" he said, apparently to himself. "Ein Engel—ein Engel! Ach Gott—wie schon—wie gemuthlich!"
"Yes, yes, yes," Brand said, "that is all very well; but one is not permitted to annoy angels—to trouble them in the street. Do you understand that that means punishment—one must be punished—if one returns to the house of that young lady? Do you understand?"
The man regarded him with the small, deep-set eyes again sunk into apathy.
"Ihr Diener, Herr," said he, submissively.
"You understand you are not to go back to the house of the young lady?"
"Ihr Diener, Herr."
There was nothing to be got out of him, or into him; so Brand waited until he should get help of Heinrich Reitzei, Lind's locum tenens.
Reitzei was in the chambers—at Lind's table, in fact. He was a man of about twenty-eight or thirty, slim and dark, with a perfectly pallid face, a small black mustache carefully waxed, and an affectedly courteous smile. He wore a pince-nez; was fond of slang, to show his familiarity with English; and aimed at an English manner, too. He seemed bored. He regarded this man whom Brand introduced to him without surprise, with indifference.
"Hear what this fellow has to say," Brand said, "will you? and give him distinctly to understand that if he tries again to see Miss Lind, I will break his head for him. What idiot could have given him Lind's private address?"
The man was standing near the door, stolid apparently, but with his small eyes keenly watching. Reitzei said a word or two to him. Instantly he went—he almost sprung—forward; and this movement was so unexpected that the equanimity of the pallid young man received a visible shock, and he hastily drew out a drawer a few inches. Brand caught sight of the handle of a revolver.
But the man was only eager to tell his story, and presently Reitzei had resumed his air of indifference. As he proceeded to translate for Brand's benefit, in interjectional phrases, what this man with the trembling hands and the burning eyes was saying, it was strange to mark the contrast between the two men.
"His name Kirski," the younger man was saying, as he eyed, with a cool and critical air, the wild look in the other's face. "A carver in wood, but cannot work now, for his hands tremble, through hunger and fatigue—through drink, I should say—native of a small village in Kiev—had his share of the Communal land—but got permission from the Commune to spend part of the year in Kiev itself—sent back all his taxes duly, and money too, because—oh, this is it?—daughter of village Elder—young, beautiful, of course—left an orphan, with three brothers—and their share of the land too much for them. Ah, this is the story, then, my friend? Married, too—young, beautiful, good—yes, yes, we know all that—"
There were tears running down the face of the other man. But these he shook away; and a wilder light than ever came into his eyes.
"He goes to Kiev as usual, foolish fellow; now I see what all the row is about. When he returns, three months after, he goes to his house. Empty. The neighbors will not speak. At last one says something about Pavel Michaieloff, the great proprietor, whose house and farm are some versts away—my good fellow, you have got the palsy, or is it drink?—he goes and seeks out the house of Pavel—yes, yes, the story is not new—Pavel is at the open window, smoking—he goes up to the window—there is a woman inside—when she sees him she utters a loud scream, and rushes for protection to the man Michaieloff—then all the fat is in the fire naturally—"
The Russian choked and gasped; drops of perspiration stood on his forehead; he looked wildly around.
"Water?" said Reitzei. "Poor devil, you need some water to cool down your excitement. You are making as much fuss as if that kind of thing had never happened in the world before."
But he rose and got him some water, which the man drained eagerly; then he continued his story with the same fierce and angry vehemence.
"Well, yes, he had something to complain of, certainly," Reitzei said, translating all that incoherent passion into cool little phrases. "Not a fair fight. Pavel summons his men from the court-yard—men with whips—dogs, too—he is lashed and driven along the roads, and the dogs tear at him! Oh yes, my good friend, you have been badly used; but you have come a long way to tell your story. I must ask him how the mischief he got here at all."
But here Reitzei paused and stared. Something the man said—in an eager, low voice, with his sunken small eyes all afire—startled him out of his critical air.
"Oh, that is it, is it?" he said, eyeing him. "He will do any thing for us—he will commit a murder—ten murders—if only we give him money, a knife, and help to kill the man Michaieloff. Well, he is a lively sort of person to let loose on society."
"The man is clearly mad," Brand said.
"The man was madder who sent him to us," Reitzei answered. "I should not like to be in his shoes if Lind hears that this maniac was allowed to see his daughter."
The wretched creature standing there glanced eagerly from one to the other, with the eyes of a wild animal, seeking to gather something from their looks; then he went forward to the table, and stooped down and spoke to Reitzei still further, in the same low, fierce voice, his whole frame meanwhile shaking with his excitement. Reitzei said something to him in reply, and motioned him back. He retired a step or two, and then kept watching the faces of the two men.
"What are you going to do with him?" Brand said.
Reitzei shrugged his shoulders.
"I know what I should like to do with him if I dared," he said, with a graceful smile. "There is a friend of mine not a hundred miles away from that very Kiev who wants a little admonition. Her name is Petrovna, she is the jail-matron of a female penitentiary; she is just a little too fierce at times. Murderers, thieves, prostitutes: oh yes, she can be civil enough to them; but let a political prisoner come near her—one of her own sex, mind—and she becomes a devil, a tigress, a vampire. Ah, Madame Petrovna and I may have a little reckoning some day. I have asked Lind again and again to petition for a decree against her; but no, he will not move; he is becoming Anglicized, effeminate."
"A decree?" Brand said.
The other smiled, with an affectation of calm superiority.
"You will learn by-and-by. Meanwhile, if I dared, what I should like to do would be to give our friend here plenty of money, and not one but two knives, saying to him. 'My good friend, here is one knife for Michaieloff, if you like; but first of all here is this knife for that angel in disguise, Madame Petrovna, of the Female Penitentiary in Novolevsk. Strike sure and hard!'"
For one instant his affectation forsook him, and there was a gleam in his eyes. This was but a momentary relapse from his professed indifference.
"Well, Mr. Brand, I suppose I must take over this madman from you. You may tell Miss Lind she need not be frightened."
"I should not think Miss Lind was in the habit of being frightened," said Brand, coldly.
"Ah, no; doubtless not. Well, I shall see that this fellow does not trouble her again. What fine tidings we had of your work in the North! You have been a power; you have moved mountains."
"I have moved John Molyneux," said Brand, with a laugh, "and in these days that is a more difficult business."
"Fine news from Spain, too," said Reitzei, glancing at some letters. "From Valladolid, Barcelona, Ferrol, Saragossa—all the same story: coalition, coalition. Salmero will be in London next week."
"But you have not told me what you are going to do with this man yet; you must stow the combustible piece of goods somewhere. Poor devil, his sufferings have made a pitiable object of him."
"My dear friend," said Reitzei, "You don't suppose that a Russian peasant would feel so deeply a beating with whips, or the worrying of dogs, or even the loss of his wife? Of course, all together, it was something of a hard grind. He must have been constitutionally insane, and that woke the whole thing up."
"Then he should be confined. He is a lunatic at large."
"I don't think he would harm anybody," Reitzei said, regarding the man as if he were a strange animal. "I would not shut up a dog in a lunatic asylum; I would rather put a bullet through his head. And this fellow—if we could humbug him a little, and get him to his work again—I know a man in Wardour Street who would do that for me—and see what effect the amassing of a little English money might have on him. Better a miser than a wild beast. And he seems a submissive sort of creature. Leave him to me, Mr. Brand."
Brand began to think a little better of Reitzei, whom hitherto he had rather disliked. He handed him five pounds, to get some clothes and tools for the man, who, when he was told of this generosity, turned to Brand and said something to him in Russian which set Reitzei laughing.
"What is it he says?"
"He said, 'Little Father, you are worthy to become the husband of the angel: may the day come soon!' I suppose the angel is Miss Lind; she must have been very kind to the man."
"She only spoke to him; but her voice can be kind," said Brand, rather absently, and then he left.
Away went the hansom back to Curzon Street. He said to himself that it was not for nothing that this unfortunate wretch Kirski had wandered all the way from the Dnieper to the Thames. He would look after this man. He would do something for him. Five pounds only? And he had been the means of securing this interview, if only for three of four minutes; after the long period of labor and hope and waiting he might have gone without a word at all but for this over-troubled poor devil.
And now—now he might even see her alone for a couple of minutes in the hushed little drawing-room; and she might say if she had heard about what had been done in the North, and about his eagerness to return to the work. One look of thanks; that was enough. Sometimes, by himself up there in the solitary inns, the old fit had come over him; and he had laughed at himself, and wondered at this new fire of occupation and interest that was blazing through his life, and asked himself, as of old, to what end—to what end? But when he heard Natalie Lind's voice, there was a quick good-bye to all questioning. One look at the calm, earnest eyes, and he drank deep of faith, courage, devotion. And surely this story of the man Kirski—what he could tell her of it—would be sufficient to fill up five minutes, eight minutes, ten minute, while all the time he should be able to dwell on her eyes, whether they were downcast, or turned to his with their frank, soft glance. He should be in the perfume of the small drawing-room. He would see the Roman necklace Mazzini had given her gleam on her bosom as she breathed.
He did not know what Natalie Lind had been about during his absence.
"Anneli, Anneli—hither, child!" she called in German. "Run up to Madame Potecki, and ask her to come and spend the afternoon with me. She must come at once, to lunch with me; I will wait."
"Yes, Fraulein. What music, Fraulein?"
"None; never mind any music. But she must come at once."
"Schon, Fraulein," said the little Anneli, about to depart.
Her young mistress called her back, and paused, with a little hesitation.
"You may tell Elizabeth," said she, with an indifferent air, "that it is possible—it is quite possible—it is at least possible—I may have two friends to lunch with me; and she must send at once if she wants anything more. And you could bring me back some fresh flowers, Anneli?"
"Why not, Fraulein?"
"Go quick, then, Anneli—fly like a roe—durch Wald und auf der Haide!"
And so it came about that when George Brand was ushered into the scented little drawing-room—so anxious to make the most of the invaluable minutes—he found himself introduced first of all to Madame Potecki, a voluble, energetic little Polish gentlewoman, whose husband had been killed in the Warsaw disturbances of '61, and who now supported herself in London by teaching music. She was eager to know all about the man Kirski, and hoped that he was not wholly a maniac, and trusted that Mr. Brand would see that her dear child—her adopted daughter, she might say—was not terrified again by the madman.
"My dear madame," said Brand, "you must not imagine that it was from terror that Miss Lind handed over the man to me—it was from kindness. That is more natural to her than terror."
"Ah, I know the dear child has the courage of an army," said the little old lady, tapping her adopted daughter on the shoulder with the fan. "But she must take care of herself while her papa is away in America."
Natalie rose; and of course Brand rose also, with a sudden qualm of disappointment, for he took that as the signal of his dismissal; and he had scarcely spoken a word to her.
"Mr. Brand," said she, with some little trifle of embarrassment, "I know I must have deprived you of your luncheon. It was so kind of you to go at once with the poor man. Would it save you time—if you are not going anywhere—I thought perhaps you might come and have something with madame and myself. You must be dying of hunger."
He did not refuse the invitation. And behold! when he went down-stairs, the table was already laid for three; had he been expected, he asked himself? Those flowers there, too: he knew it was no maid-servant's fingers that had arranged and distributed them so skilfully.
How he blessed this little Polish lady, and her volubility, and her extravagant, subtle, honest flattery of her dear adopted daughter! It gave him liberty to steep himself in the rich consciousness of Natalie's presence; he could listen in silence for the sound of her voice—he could covertly watch the beauty of her shapely hands—without being considered preoccupied or morose. All he had to do was to say, "Yes, madame," or "Indeed, madame," the while he knew that Natalie Lind was breathing the same air with him—that at any moment the large, lustrous dark eyes might look up and meet his. And she spoke little, too; and had scarcely her usual frank self-confidence: perhaps a chance reference of Madame Potecki to the fact that her adopted daughter had been brought up without a mother had somewhat saddened her.
The room was shaded in a measure, for the French silk blinds were down; but there was a soft golden glow prevailing all the same. For many a day George Brand remembered that little luncheon-party; the dull, bronze glow of the room; the flowers; the soft, downcast eyes opposite him; the bright, pleasant garrulity of the little Polish lady; and always—ah, the delight of it!—that strange, trembling, sweet consciousness that Natalie Lind was listening as he listened—that almost he could have heard the beating of her heart.
And a hundred and a hundred times he swore that, whoever throughout the laboring and suffering world might regret that day, the man Kirski should not.
It was a Sunday afternoon in Hyde Park, in this pleasantly opening summer; and there was a fair show of "the quality" come out for their accustomed promenade, despite the few thunder-showers that had swept across from the South. These, in fact, had but served to lay the dust, and to bring out the scent of the hawthorns and lilacs, so that the air was sweet with perfume; while the massive clouds, banking up in the North, formed a purple background to show up the young green foliage of the trees, all wet with rain, and shimmering tremulously in the sunlight.
George Brand and his friend Evelyn sat in the back row of chairs, watching the people pass and repass. It was a sombre procession, but that here and there appeared a young English girl in her pale spring costume—paler than the fresh glow of youth and health on her face, and that here and there the sunlight, wandering down through the branches, touched a scarlet sunshade—just then coming into fashion—until that shone like a beautiful spacious flower among the mass of green.
When they had been silently watching the people for some little time, Brand said, almost to himself,
"How very unlike those women she is!"
"Who? Oh, Natalie Lind," said the other, who had been speaking of her some minutes before. "Well, that is natural and I don't say it to their disadvantage. I believe most girls are well-intended enough; but, of course, they grow up in a particular social atmosphere, and it depends on that what they become. If it is rather fast, the girl sees nothing objectionable in being fast too. If it is religious, the god of her idolatry is a bishop. If it is sporting, she thinks mostly about horses. Natalie is exceptional, because she has been brought up in exceptional circumstances. For one thing, she has been a good deal alone; and she has formed all sorts of beautiful idealisms and aspirations—"
The conversation dropped here; for at the moment Lord Evelyn espied two of his sisters coming along in the slow procession.
"Here come two of the girls," he said to his friend. "How precious demure they look!"
Brand at once rose, and went out from the shadow of the trees, to pay his respects to the two young ladies.
"How do you do, Miss D'Agincourt? How do you do, Miss Frances?"
Certainly no one would have suspected these two very graceful and pleasant-looking girls of being madcap creatures at home. The elder was a tall and slightly-built blonde, with large gray eyes set wide apart; the younger a gentle little thing, with brownish eyes, freckles, and a pretty mouth.
"Mamma?" said the eldest daughter, in answer to his inquires. "Oh, she is behind, bringing up the rear, as it were. We have to go in detachment, or else the police would come and read the riot act against us. Francie and I are the vanguard; and she feels such a good little girl, marching along two and two, just as if she were back at Brighton."
The clear gray eyes—quite demure—glanced in toward the shadows of the trees.
"I see you have got Evelyn there, Mr. Brand. Who is the extraordinary person he is always talking about now—the Maid of Saragossa, or Joan of Arc, or something like that? Do you know her?"
"I suppose you mean Miss Lind."
"I know he has persuaded mamma to go and call on her, and get her to dine with us, if she will come. Now, I call that kind."
"If she accepts, you mean?"
"No, I mean nothing of the sort. Good-bye. If we stay another minute, we shall have the middle detachments overlapping the vanguard. En avant, Francie! Vorwarts!"
She bowed to him, and passed on in her grave and stately manner: more calmly observant, demurer eyes were not in the Park.
He ran the gauntlet of the whole family, and at last encountered the mamma, who brought up the rear with the youngest of her daughters. Lady Evelyn was a tall, somewhat good-looking, elderly lady, who wore her silver-white hair in old-fashioned curls. She was an amiable but strictly matter-of-fact person, who beheld her daughters' mad humors with surprise as well as alarm. What were they forever laughing at? Besides, it was indecorous. She had not conducted herself in that manner when she lived in her father's home.
Lady Evelyn, who was vaguely aware that Brand knew the Linds, repeated her daughter's information about the proposed visit, and said that if Miss Lind would come and spend the evening with them, she hoped Mr. Brand would come too.
"These girls do tease dreadfully, I know," said their mamma; "but perhaps they will behave a little better before a stranger."
Mr. Brand replied that he hoped Miss Lind would accept the invitation—for during her father's absence she must be somewhat dull—but that even without the protection of her presence he was not afraid to face those formidable young ladies. Whereupon Miss Geraldine—who was generally called the baby, though she was turned thirteen—glanced at him with a look which said, "Won't you catch it for that!" and the mamma then bade him good-bye, saying that Rosalys would write to him as soon as the evening was arranged.
He had not long to wait for that expected note. The very next night he received it. Miss Lind was coming on Thursday; would that suit him? A quarter to eight.
He was there punctual to the moment. The presence of the whole rabble of girls in the drawing-room told him that this was to be a quite private and domestic dinner-party; on other occasions only two or three of the phalanx—as Miss D'Agincourt described herself and her sisters—were chosen to appear. And, on this especial occasion, there was a fine hubbub of questions and raillery going on—which Brand vainly endeavored to meet all at once—when he was suddenly rescued. The door was opened, and Miss Lind was announced. The clamor ceased.
She was dressed in black, with a red camellia in her bosom, and another in the magnificent black hair. Brand thought he had never seen her look so beautiful, and at once so graciously proud and gentle. Lady Evelyn went forward to meet her, and greeted her very kindly indeed. She was introduced to one or two of the girls. She shook hands with Mr. Brand, and gave him a pleasant smile of greeting. Lady Evelyn had to apologize for her son's absence; he had only gone to write a note.
The tall, beautiful Hungarian girl seemed not in the least embarrassed by all these curious eyes, that occasionally and covertly regarded her while pretending not to do so. Two of the young ladies there were older than she was, yet she seemed more of a woman than any of them. Her self-possession was perfect. She sat down by Lady Evelyn, and submitted to be questioned. The girls afterward told their brother they believed she was an actress, because of the clever manner in which she managed her train.
But at this moment Lord Evelyn made his appearance in great excitement, and with profuse apologies.
"But the fact is," said he, producing an evening paper, "the fact is—just listen to this, Natalie: it is the report of a police case."
At his thus addressing her by her Christian name the mother started somewhat, and the demure eyes of the girls were turned to the floor, lest they should meet any conscious glance.
"Here is a fellow brought before the Hammersmith magistrate for indulging in a new form of amusement. Oh, very pretty! very nice! He had only got hold of a small dog and he was taking it by the two forelegs, and trying how far he could heave it. Very well; he is brought before the magistrates. He had only heaved the dog two or three times; nothing at all, you know. You think he will get off with a forty shillings fine, or something like that. Not altogether! Two months' hard labor—two solid months' hard labor; and if I had my will of the brute," he continued, savagely, "I would give ten years' hard labor, and bury him alive when he came out. However, two months' hard labor is something. I glory in that magistrate; I have just been up-stairs writing a note asking him to dine with me. I believe I was introduced to him once."
"Evelyn quite goes beside himself," his mother said to her guest, with half an air of apology, "when he reads about cruelty like that."
"Surely it is better than being callous," said Natalie, speaking very gently.
They went in to dinner; and the young ladies were very well behaved indeed. They did not at all resent the fashion in which the whole attention of the dinner-table was given to the stranger.
"And so you like living in England?" said Lady Evelyn to her.
"I cannot breathe elsewhere," was the simple answer.
"Why," said the matter-of-fact, silver-haired lady, "if this country is notorious for anything, it is for its foggy atmosphere!"
"I think it is famous for something more than that," said the girl, with just a touch of color in the beautiful face; for she was not accustomed to speak before so many people. "Is it not more famous for its freedom? It is that that makes the air so sweet to breathe."
"Well, at all events, you don't find it very picturesque as compared with other countries. Evelyn tells me you have travelled a great deal."
"Perhaps I am not very fond of picturesqueness," Natalie said, modestly. "When I am travelling through a country I would rather see plenty of small farms, thriving and prosperous, than splendid ruins that tell only of oppression and extravagance, and the fierceness of war."
No one spoke; so she made bold to continue—but she addressed Lady Evelyn only.
"No doubt it is very picturesque, as you go up the Rhine, or across the See Kreis, or through the Lombard plains, to see every height crowned with its castle. Yes, one cannot help admiring. They are like beautiful flowers that have blossomed up from the valleys and the plains below. But who tilled the land, that these should grow there on every height? Are you not forced to think of the toiling wretches who labored and labored to carry stone by stone up the crest of the hill? They did not get much enjoyment out of the grandeur and picturesqueness of the castles."
"But they gave that labor for their own protection," Lady Evelyn said, with a smile. "The great lords and barons were their protectors."
"The great lords and barons said so, at least," said the girl, without any smile at all, "and I suppose the peasantry believed them; and were quite willing to leave their vineyards and go and shed their blood whenever the great lords and barons quarrelled among themselves."
"Well said! well said!" Brand exclaimed, quickly; though, indeed, this calm, gentle-eyed, self-possessed girl was in no need of any champion.
"I am afraid you are a great Radical, Miss Lind," said Lady Evelyn.
"Perhaps it is your English air, Lady Evelyn," said the girl, with a smile.
Lord Evelyn's mother, notwithstanding her impassive, unimaginative nature, soon began to betray a decided interest in this new guest, and even something more. She was attracted, to begin with, by the singular beauty of the young Hungarian lady, which was foreign-looking, unusual, picturesque. She was struck by her perfect self-possession, and by the ease and grace of her manner, which was rather that of a mature woman than of a girl of nineteen. But most of all she was interested in her odd talk and opinions, which she expressed with such absolute simplicity and frankness. Was it, Lady Evelyn asked herself, that the girl had been brought up so much in the society of men—that she had neither mother nor sisters—that she spoke of politics and such matters as if it the most natural thing in the world for women, of whatever age, to consider them as of first importance?
But one chance remark that Natalie made, on the impulse of the moment, did for the briefest possible time break down that charming self-confidence of hers, and show her—to the wonderment of the English girls—the prey of an alarmed embarrassment. George Brand had been talking of patriotism, and of the scorn that must naturally be felt for the man who would say of his country, "Well, it will last my time. Let me enjoy myself when I can. What do I care about the future of other people?" And then he went on to talk of the larger patriotism that concerned itself not merely with one's fellow-countrymen but with one's fellow-mortals; and how the stimulus and enthusiasm of that wider patriotism should be proportionately stronger; and how it might seek to break down artificial barriers of political systems and religious creeds. Patriotism was a beautiful flame—a star; but here was a sun. Ordinary, to tell the truth, Brand was but an indifferent speaker—he had all an Englishman's self-consciousness; but now he spoke for Natalie alone, and minded the others but little. Presently Lady Evelyn said, with a smile,
"You, too, Miss Lind, are a reformer, are you not? Evelyn is very mysterious, and I can't quite make out what he means; but at all events it is very kind of you to spare us an evening when you must be so deeply engaged."
"I?" said Natalie. "Oh no, it is very little that I can do. The work is too difficult and arduous for women, perhaps. But there is one thing that women can do—they can love and honor those who are working for them."
It was spoken impulsively—probably the girl was thinking only of her father. But at the moment she happened to look up, and there were Rosalys D'Agincourt's calmly observant eyes fixed on her. Then some vague echo of what she had said rushed in upon her; she was bewildered by the possible interpretation others might put on the words; and the quick, sensitive blood mounted to her forehead. But fortunately Lady Evelyn, who had missed the whole thing, happened at this very instant to begin talking of orchids, and Natalie struck in with great relief. So that little episode went by.
And, as dinner went on, Brand became more and more convinced that this family was the most delightful family in England. Just so much restraint had left their manner as to render those madcap girls exceedingly frank and good-natured in the courtesy they showed to their guest, and to admit her as a confidante into their ways of bantering each other. And one would herself come round to shift the fire-screen behind Miss Lind to precisely the proper place; and another said that Miss Lind drank water because Evelyn had been so monstrously stupid as not to have any Hungarian wine for her; and another asked if she might call on Miss Lind the following afternoon, to take her to some place where some marvellous Japanese curiosities were on view. Then, when they left for the drawing-room, the eldest Miss D'Agincourt put her arm within the arm of their guest, and said,
"Now, dear Miss Lind, please understand that, if there was any stranger here at all, we should not dream of asking you to sing. Ermentrude and I take all that on our shoulders; we squawk for the whole of the family. But Evelyn has told us so much about your singing—"
"Oh, I will sing for you if you wish it," said Natalie, without hesitation.
Some little time thereafter Brand was walking up and down the room below, slowly and thoughtfully: he was not much of a wine-drinker.
"Evelyn," he said, suddenly, "I shall soon be able to tell you whether I owe you a life-long gratitude. I owe you much already. Through you I have got some work to do in the world; I am busy, and content. But there is a greater prize."
"I think I can guess what you mean," his companion said, calmly.
"You do?" said the other, with a quick look. "And you do not think I am mad?—to go and ask her to be my wife before she has given me a single word of hope?"
"She has spoken to others about you: I know what she thinks of you," said Lord Evelyn. Then the fine, pale face was slightly flushed. "To tell you the truth, Brand, I thought of this before you ever saw her."
"Thought of what?" said the other, with a stare of surprise.
"That you would be the right sort of man to make a husband for her: she might be left alone in the world at any moment, without a single relation, and scarcely a friend."
"Women don't marry for these reasons," said the other, somewhat absently. "And yet, if she were to think of it, it would not be as if I were withdrawing her from everything she takes an interest in. We should be together. I am eager to go forward, even by myself; but with her for a companion—think of that!"
"I have thought of it," said Lord Evelyn, with something of a sad smile. "Often. And there is no man in England more heartily wishes you success than I do. Come, let us go up to the drawing-room."
They went out into the hall. Some one was playing a noisy piece up-stairs; it was safe to speak. And then he said,
"Shall I tell you something, Brand?—something that will keep you awake all this night, and not with the saddest of thinking? If I am not mistaken, I fancy you have already 'stole bonny Glenlyon away.'"
Black night lay over the city, and silence; the river flowed unseen through the darkness; but a thousand golden points of fire mapped out the lines of the Embankment and the long curves of the distant bridges. The infrequent sounds that could be heard were strangely distinct, even when they were faint and remote. There was a slight rustling of wind in the trees below the window.
But the night and the silence brought him neither repose nor counsel. A multitude of bewildering, audacious hopes and distracting fears strove for mastery in his mind, upsetting altogether the calm and cool judgment on which he prided himself. His was not a nature to harbor illusions; he had a hard way of looking at things; and yet—and yet—might not this chance speech of Lord Evelyn have been something more than a bit of good-humored raillery? Lord Evelyn was Natalie's intimate friend; he knew all her surroundings; he was a quick observer; he was likely to know if this thing was possible. But, on the other hand, how was it possible that so beautiful a creature, in the perfect flower of her youth, should be without a lover? He forced himself to remember that she and her father seemed to see no society at all. Perhaps she was too useful to him, and he would not have her entangle herself with many friends. Perhaps they had led too nomadic a life. But even in hotels abroad, how could she have avoided the admiration she was sure to evoke? And in Florence, mayhap, or Mentone, or Madrid; and here he began to conjure up a host of possible rivals, all foreigners, of course, and all equally detestable, and to draw pictures for him of tables d'hote, with always the one beautiful figure there, unconscious, gentle, silent, but drawing to her all men's eyes.
There was but the one way of putting an end to this maddening uncertainty. He dared not claim an interview with her; she might be afraid of implying too much by granting it; various considerations might dictate a refusal. But he could write; and, in point of fact, writing-materials were on the table. Again and again he had sat down and taken the pen in his hand, only to get up as often and go and stare out into the yellow glare of the night. For an instant his shadow would fall on the foliage of the trees below, and then pass away again like a ghost.
At two-and-twenty love is reckless, and glib of speech; it takes little heed of the future; the light straw-flame, for however short a period, leaps up merrily enough. But at two-and-thirty it is more alive to consequences; it is not the present moment, but the duration of life, that it regards; it seeks to proceed with a sure foot. And at this crisis, in the midst of all this irresolution, that was unspeakably vexatious to a man of his firm nature, Brand demanded of himself his utmost power of self-control. He would not imperil the happiness of his life by a hasty, importunate appeal. When at length he sat down, determined not to rise until he had sent her this message, he forced himself to write—at the beginning, at least—in a roundabout and indifferent fashion, so that she should not be alarmed. He began by excusing his writing to her, saying he had scarcely ever had a chance of talking to her, and that he wished to tell her something of what had happened to him since the memorable evening on which he had first met her at her father's house. And he went on to speak to her of a friend of his, who used to amuse himself with the notion that he would like to enter himself at a public school and go through his school life all over again. There he had spent the happiest of his days; why should he not repeat them? If only the boys would agree to treat him as one of themselves, why should he not be hail-fellow-well-met with them, and once more enjoy the fun of uproarious pillow-battles and have smuggled tarts and lemonade at night, and tame rabbits where no rabbits should be, and a profound hero-worship for the captain of the school Eleven, and excursions out of bounds, when his excess of pocket-money would enable him to stand treat all round? "Why not?" this friend of his used to say. "Was it so very impossible for one to get back the cares and interests, the ambitions, the amusements, the high spirits of one's boyhood?" And if he now were to tell her that a far greater miracle had happened to himself? That at an age when he had fancied he had done and seen most things worth doing and seeing, when the past seemed to contain everything worth having, and there was nothing left but to try how the tedious hours could be got over; when a listless ennui was eating his very heart out—that he should be presented, as it were, with a new lease of life, with stirring hopes and interests, with a new and beautiful faith, with a work that was a joy in itself, whether any reward was to be or no? And surely he could not fail to express to Lord Evelyn and to herself his gratitude for this strange thing.
These are but the harsh outlines of what, so far, he wrote; but there was a feeling in it—a touch of gladness and of pathos here and there—that had never before been in any of his writing, and of which he was himself unconscious.
But at this point he paused, and his breathing grew quick. It was so difficult to write in these measured terms. When he resumed, he wrote more rapidly.
What wonder, he made bold to ask her, if amidst all this bewildering change some still stranger dream of what might be possible in the future should have taken possession of him? She and he were leagued in sympathy as regarded the chief object of their lives; it was her voice that had inspired him; might he not hope that they should go forward together, in close friendship at least, if there could be nothing more? And as to that something more, was there no hope? He could give himself no grounds for any such hope; and yet—so much had happened to him, and mostly through her, that he could set no limit to the possibilities of happiness that lay in her generous hands. When he saw her among others, he despaired; when he thought of her alone, and of the gentleness of her heart, he dared to hope. And if this declaration of his was distressing to her, how easy it was for her to dismiss and forget it. If he had dared too much, he had himself to blame. In any case, she need not fear that her refusal should have the effect of dissociating them in those wider interests and sympathies to which he had pledged himself. He was not one to draw back. And if he had alarmed or offended her, he appealed to her charity—to that great kindness which she seemed eager to extend to all living creatures. How could such a vision of possible happiness have arisen in his mind without his making one effort, however desperate, to realize it? At the worst, she would forgive.
This was, in brief, the substance of what he wrote; but when, after many an anxious re-reading, he put the letter in an envelope, he was miserably conscious how little it conveyed of all the hope and desire that had hold of his heart. But then, he argued with himself, if she inclined her ear so far, surely he would have other and better opportunities of pleading with her; whereas, if he had been dreaming of impossibilities, then he and she would meet the more easily in the future that he had not given too vehement an expression to all the love and admiration he felt for her. He could not sacrifice her friendship also—her society—the chances of listening from time to time to the musical low, soft voice.
Carrying this fateful letter in his hand, he went down stairs and out into the cool night air. And now he was haunted by a hundred fears. Again and again he was on the point of turning back to add something, to alter something, to find some phrase that would appeal more closely to her heart. And then all of a sudden he convinced himself that he should not have written at all. Why not have gone to see her, at any risk, to plead with herself? But then he would have had to write to beg for a tete-a-tete interview; and would not that be more distinctly alarming than this roundabout epistle, which was meant to convey so much indirectly? Finally, he arrived at the pillar letter-box: and this indisputable fact brought an end to his cogitations. If he had gone walking onward he would have wasted the night in fruitless counsel. He would have repeated again and again the sentences he had used; striven to picture her as she read; wondered if he ought not still to go back and strengthen his prayer. But now it was to be yes or no. Well, he posted the letter; and then he breathed more freely. The die was cast, for good or ill.
And, indeed, no sooner was the thing done than his spirits rose considerably, and he walked on with a lighter heart. This solitary London, all lamp-lit and silent, was a beautiful city. "Schlaf selig und suss," the soft stirring of the night-wind seemed to say: let her not dread the message the morning would bring! He thought of the other cities she must have visited; and if—ah, the dream of it!—if he and she were to go away together to behold the glories of the moonlight on the lagoon, and the wonders of the sunrise among the hills! He had been in Rome, he remembered, a wonderful coronet of rubies: would not that do for the beautiful black masses of hair? Or pearls? She did not appear to have much jewellery. Or rather—seeing that such things are possible between husband and wife—would she not accept the value, and far more than the value, of any jewellery she could desire, to be given away in acts of kindness? That would be more like Natalie.
He walked on, his heart full of an audacious joy; for now this was the picture before him; a Buckinghamshire hill; a red and white house among the beeches; and a spacious lawn looking out on the far and wooded plain, with its villages, and spires, and tiny curls of smoke. And this foreign young lady become an English house-mistress; proud of her nectarines and pineapples; proud of her Hungarian horses; proud of the quiet and comfort of the home she can offer to her friends, when they come for a space to rest from their labors.... "Schlaf selig und suss!" the night-wind seemed to say: "The white morning is bringing with it a message!"
To him the morning brought an end to all those golden dreams of the night. There action had set in. His old misgivings returned with redoubled force. For one thing, there was a letter from Reitzei, saying that the man Kirski had at length consented to begin to work at his trade, and that Miss Lind need fear no further annoyance; and somehow he did not like to see her name written in this foreign way of writing. She belonged to these foreigners; her cares and interests were not those of one who would feel at home in that Buckhamshire home; she was remote. And, of course, in her manifold wanderings—in those hotels in which she had to pass the day, when her father was absent at his secret interviews—how could she avoid making acquaintances? Even among those numerous friends of her father's there must have been some one here or there to accompany her in her drives in the Prater, in her evenings at La Scala, in her morning walk along the Chiaja. He remembered how seldom he had seen her; she might have many more friends in London than he had dreamed of. Who could see her, and remain blind to her beauty? Who could know her, and remain insensible to the fascination of her enthusiasm, her faith in the right, her courage, her hope, her frank friendship with those who would help?
He was impatient with the veteran Waters this morning; and Waters was himself fractious, and inclined to resent sarcasm. He had just heard from Buckinghamshire that his substitute had, for some reason or other, intrusted the keys of the wine-cellar to one of the house-maids; and that that industrious person had seized the opportunity to tilt up all the port-wine she could lay her hands on in order to polish the bottles with a duster.
"Well," said his master, "I suppose she collected the cobwebs and sold them to a wine-merchant: they would be invaluable."
Waters said nothing, but resolved to have a word with the young woman when he went down.
The morning was fine; in any case, Brand could not have borne the distress of waiting in all day, on the chance of her reply coming. He had to be moving. He walked up to Lisle Street, and saw Reitzei, on the pretext of talking about Kirski.
"Lind will be back in a week," said the pallid-faced smart young man. "He writes with great satisfaction, which always means something in his case. I should not wonder if he and his daughter went to live in the States."
"Oh, indeed," said Brand, coldly; but the words made his heart tremble.
"Yes. And if you would only go through the remaining degrees, you might take his place—who knows?"
"Who knows, indeed?" said Brand. "But I don't covet the honor."
There was something in his tone which made the other look up.
"I mean the responsibility," he said, quickly.
"You see," observed Reitzei, leaning back in his chair, "one must admit you are having rather hard lines. Your work is invaluable to us—Lind is most proud of it—but it is tedious and difficult, eh? Now if they were to give you something like the Syrian business—"
"What is that?"
"Oh, only one of the many duties the Society has undertaken," said Reitzei, carelessly. "Not that I approve because the people are Christians; it is because they are numerically weak; and the Mahommedans treat them shamefully. There is no one knows about it; no one to make a row about it; and the Government won't let the poor wretches import arms to defend themselves. Very well: very well, messieurs! But your Government allow the importation of guns for sport. Ha! and then, if one can find money, and an ingenious English firm to make rifle-barrels to fit into the sporting-gun stock can you conceive any greater fun than smuggling these barrels into the country? My dear fellow, it is glorious: we could have five hundred volunteers! But at the same time I say your work is more valuable to us. No one but an Englishman could do it. Every one knows of your success."
Brand thanked Reitzei for his good opinion, and rather absently took up his hat and left. Instinctively he made his way westward. He was sure to see her, at a distance, taking this morning stroll of hers: might he not guess something from her face as to what her reply would be? She could not have written so soon; she would take time to consider; even a refusal would, he knew, be gently worded.
In any case, he would see her; and if her answer gave no hope, it would be the last time on which he would follow that graceful figure from afar with his eyes, and wonder to himself what the low and musical voice was saying to Anneli. And as he walked on, he grew more and more downhearted. It was a certainty that, out of all those friends of her father's some one must have dreamed of possessing this beautiful prize for his own.
When, after not much waiting, he saw Natalie and Anneli cross into the Park, he had so reasoned himself into despair that he was not surprised—at least he tried to convince himself that he was not surprised—to perceive that the former was accompanied by a stranger, the little German maid-servant walking not quite with them, and yet not altogether behind them. He could almost have expected this; and yet his eyes seemed hot, and he had some difficulty in trying to make out who this might be. And at this great distance he could only gather that he was foreign in appearance, and that he wore a peaked cap in place of a hat.
He dared not follow them now; and he was about to turn away when he saw Natalie's new companion motion to her to sit down on one of the seats. He sat down, too; and he took her hand, and held it in his. What then?
This man looking on from a distance, with a bitter heart, had no thought against her. Was it not natural for so beautiful a girl to have a lover? But that this fellow—this foreigner—should degrade her by treating her as if she were a nursery-maid flirting with one of the soldiers from the barracks down there, this filled him with bitterness and hatred. He turned and walked away with a firm step. He had no ill thoughts of her, whatever message she might send him. At the worst, she had been generous to him; she had filled his life with love and hope; she had given him a future. If this dream were shattered, at least he could turn elsewhere, and say, "Labor, be thou my good."
Meanwhile, of this stranger? He had indeed taken Natalie Lind's hand in his, and Natalie let it remain there without hesitation.
"My little daughter," said he to her in Italian, "I could have recognized you by your hands. You have the hands of your mother: no one in the world had more beautiful hands than she had. And now I will tell you about her, if you promise not to cry any more."
It was Calabressa who spoke.
When Calabressa called at the house in Curzon Street he was at once admitted; Natalie recognizing the name as that of one of her father's old friends. Calabressa had got himself up very smartly, to produce an impression on the little Natalushka whom he expected to see. His military-looking coat was tightly buttoned; he had burnished up the gold braid of his cap; and as he now ascended the stairs he gathered the ends of his mustache out of his yellow-white beard and curled them round and round his fingers and pulled them out straight. He had already assumed a pleasant smile.
But when he entered the shaded drawing-room, and beheld this figure before him, all the dancing-master's manner instantly fled from him. He seemed thunderstruck; he shrunk back a little; his cap fell to the floor; he could not utter a word.
"Excuse me—excuse me, mademoiselle," he gasped out at length, in his odd French. "Ah, it is like a ghost—like other years come back—"
He stared at her.
"I am very pleased to see you, sir," said she to him, gently, in Italian.
"Her voice also—her voice also!" he exclaimed, almost to himself, in the same tongue. "Signorina, you will forgive me—but—when one sees an old friend—you are so like—ah, so like—"
"You are speaking of my mother?" the girl said, with her eyes cast down. "I have been told that I was like her. You knew her, signore?"
Calabressa pulled himself together somewhat. He picked up his cap; he assumed a more business-like air.
"Oh yes, signorina, I knew her," he said, with an apparent carelessness, but he was regarding her all the same. "Yes, I knew her well. We were friends long before she married. What, are you surprised that I am so old? Do you know that I can remember you when you were a very little thing—at Dunkirk it was—and what a valiant young lady you were, and you would go to fight the Russians all by yourself! And you—you do not remember your mother?"
"I cannot tell," she said, sadly. "They say it is impossible, and yet I seem to remember one who loved me, and my grief when I asked for her and found she would never come back—or else that is only my recollection of what I was told by others. But what of that? I know where she is now: she is my constant companion. I know she loved me; I know she is always regarding me; I talk to her, so that I am never quite alone; at night I pray to her, as if she were a saint—"
She turned aside somewhat; her eyes were full of tears. Calabressa said quickly,
"Ah, signorina, why recall what is so sad? It is so useless. Allons donc! shall I tell you of my surprise when I saw you first? A ghost—that is nothing! It is true, your father warned me. He said, 'The little Natalushka is a woman now.' But how could one believe it?"
She had recovered her composure; she begged him to be seated.
"Bien! One forgets. Then my old mother—my dear young lady, even I, old as I am, have a mother—what does she do but draw a prize in the Austro-Hungarian lottery—a huge prize—enough to demoralize one for life—five thousand florins. More remarkable still, the money is paid. Not so remarkable, my good mother declares she will give half of it to an undutiful son, who has never done very well with money in this world. We come to the denouement quickly. 'What,' said I, 'shall I do with my new-found liberty and my new-found money? To the devil with banks! I will be off and away to the land of fogs to see my little friend Natalushka, and ask her what she thinks of the Russians now.' And the result? My little daughter, you have given me such a fright that I can feel my hands still trembling."
"I am very sorry," said she, with a smile. This gay manner of his had driven away her sad memories. It seemed quite natural to her that he should address her as "My little daughter."
"But where are the fogs? It is a paradise that I have reached—the air clear and soft, the gardens beautiful. This morning I said to myself, 'I will go early. Perhaps the little Natalushka will be going out for a walk; perhaps we will go together.' No, signorina," said he, with a mock-heroic bow, "it was not with the intention of buying you toys. But was I not right? Do I not perceive by your costume that you were about to go out?"
"That is nothing, signore," said she. "It would be very strange if I could not give up my morning walk for an old friend of my father's."
"An contraire, you shall not give up your walk," said he, with great courtesy. "We will go together; and then you will tell me about your father."
She accepted this invitation without the slightest scruple. It did not occur to her—as it would naturally have occurred, to most English girls—that she would rather not go walking in Hyde Park with a person who looked remarkably like the leader of a German band.
But Calabressa had known her mother.
"Ah, signore," said she, when they had got into the outer air, "I shall be so grateful to you if you will tell me about my mother. My father will not speak of her; I dare not awaken his grief again; he must have suffered much. You will tell me about her."
"My little daughter, your father is wise. Why awaken old sorrows? You must not spoil your eyes with more crying."
And then he went on to speak of all sorts of things, in his rapid, interjectional fashion—of his escape from prison mostly—until he perceived that she was rather silent and sad.
"Come then," said he, "we will sit down on this seat. Give me your hand."
She placed her hand in his without hesitation; and he patted it gently, and said how like it was to the hand of her mother.
"You are a little taller than she was," said he; "a little—not much. Ah, how beautiful she was! She had many sweethearts."
He was silent for a minute or two.
"Some of them richer, some of them of nobler birth than your father; and one of them her own cousin, whom all her family wanted her to marry. But you know, little daughter, your father is a very determined man—"
"But she loved him the best?" said the girl, quickly.
"Ah, no doubt, no doubt," said Calabressa. "He is very kind to you, is he not?"
"Oh yes. Who could be kinder? But about my mother, signore?"
Calabressa seemed somewhat embarrassed.
"To say the truth, little daughter, how am I to tell you? I scarcely ever saw her after she married. Before then, you must imagine yourself as you are to think of her picture: and she was very much beloved—and very fond of horses. Is not that enough to tell? Ah, yes, another thing: she was very brave when there was any danger; and you know all the family were strong patriots; and one or two got into sad trouble. When her father—that is your grandfather, little daughter—when he failed to escape into Turkey after the assassination—"
Here Calabressa stopped, and then gave a slight wave of his hand.
"These are matters not interesting to you. But when her father had to seek a hiding-place she went with him in despite of everybody. I do not suppose he would be alive now but for her devotion."
"Is my mother's father alive?" the girl said, with eyes wide open.
"I believe so; but the less said about it the better, little daughter."
"Why has my father never told me?" she asked, with the same almost incredulous stare.
"Have I not hinted? The less said the better. There are some things no government will amnesty. Your grandfather was a good patriot, little daughter."
Thereafter for some minutes silence. Slight as was the information Calabressa had given her, it was of intensest interest to her. There was much for her to think over. Her mother, whom she had been accustomed to regard as a beautiful saint, placed far above the common ways of earth, was suddenly presented to her in a new light. She thought of her young, handsome, surrounded with lovers, proud-spirited and patriotic—a devoted daughter, a brave woman.
"You also loved her?" she said to Calabressa.
The man started. She had spoken quite innocently—almost absently: she was thinking that he, too, must have loved the brave young Hungarian girl as all the world loved her.
"I?" said Calabressa. "Oh yes, I was a friend of hers for many years. I taught her Italian; she corrected my Magyar. Once her horse ran way; I was walking, and saw her coming; there was a wagon and oxen, and I shouted to the man; he drew the oxen right across the road, and barred the way. Ah, how angry she used to be—she pretended to be—when they told her I had saved her life! She was a bold rider."
Presently Calabressa said, with a lighter air,
"Come, let us talk of something else—of you, par exemple. How do you like the English? You have many sweethearts among them, of course."
"No, signore, I have no sweethearts," said Natalie, without any trace of embarrassment.
"What! Is is possible? When I saw your father in Venice, and he told me the little Natalushka had grown to be a woman. I said to him, 'Then she will marry an Englishman.'"
"And what did he say?" the girl asked, with a startled look on her face.
"Oh, little, very little. If there was no possibility, why should he say much?"
"I have no sweethearts," said Natalie, simply; "but I have a friend—who wishes to be more than a friend. And it is now, when I have to answer him, it is now that I know what a sad thing it is to have no mother."
The pathetic vibration that Brand had noticed was in her voice; her eyes were downcast, her hands clasped. For a second or two Calabressa was silent.
"I am not idly curious, my little daughter," he said at length, and very gently; "but if you knew how long your mother and I were friends, you would understand the interest I feel in you, and why I came all this way to see the little Natalushka. So, one question, dear little one. Does your father approve?"
"Ah, how can I tell?"
He took her hand, and his face was grave.
"Listen now," said he; "I am going to give you advice. If your mother could speak to you, this is what she would say: Whatever happens—whatever happens—do not thwart your father's wishes."
She wished to withdraw her hand, but he still held it.
"I do not understand you," she said. "Papa's wishes will always be for my happiness; why should I think of thwarting them?"
"Why, indeed? And again, why? It is my advice to you, my little daughter, whether you think your father's wishes are for your happiness or not—because, you know, sometimes fathers and daughters have different ideas—do not go against his will."
The hot blood mounted to Natalie's forehead—for the first time during this interview.
"Are you predicting strife, signore? I owe obedience to my father, I know it; but I am not a child. I am a woman, and have my own wishes. My papa would not think of thwarting them."
"Natalushka, you must not be angry with me."
"I am not angry, signore; but you must not suppose that I am quite a child."
"Pardieu, non!" said Calabressa. "I expected to find Natalushka; I find Natalie—ah, Heaven! that is the wonder and the sadness of it to me! I think I am talking to your mother: these are her hands. I listen to her voice: it seems twenty years ago. And you have a proud spirit, as she had: again I say—do not thwart your father's wishes, Natalie—rather, Natalushka!"
He spoke with such an obvious kindness and earnestness that she could not feel offended.
"And if you want any one to help you at any time, my little daughter—for who knows the ways of the world, and what may happen?—if your father is sent away, and you are alone, and you want some one to do something for you, then this is what you will say to yourself: 'There is that old fool Calabressa, who has nothing in the world to do but smoke cigarettes and twirl his mustache—I will send for Calabressa.' And this I promise, little one, that Calabressa will very soon be at your feet."
"I thank you signore."
"It is true, I may be away on duty, as your father might be; but I have friends at head-quarters; I have done some service. And if I were to say, 'Calabressa wishes to be relieved from duty; it is the daughter of Natalie Berezolyi who demands his presence,' I know the answer: 'Calabressa will proceed at once to obey the commands of the daughter of Natalie Berezolyi.'"
"No, my little daughter, you must not ask that. I will tell you only that they are all-powerful; that they will protect you—with Calabressa as their agent; and before I leave this city I will give you my address, or rather I will give you an address where you will find some one who will guide you to me. May Heaven grant that there be no need. Why should harm come to one who is so beautiful and so gentle?"
"My mother—was she happy?" she said quickly.
"Little daughter," said he, sharply, and he threw away her hand, "if you ask me any more questions about your mother you will make my heart bleed. Do you not understand so simple a thing as that, you who claim to be a woman? You have been stabbing me. Come, come: allons!—let us talk of something else—of your friend who wishes to be more than a friend—you wicked little one, who have no sweetheart! And what are those fools of English about? What? But tell me—is he one of us?"
"Oh yes, signore," said she; and instead of showing any shamefacedness, she turned toward him and regarded him with the fearless, soft dark eyes. "How could you think otherwise? And he is so brave and noble: he is not afraid of sacrificing those things that the English put such store by—"
"English?" said Calabressa.
"Yes," said Natalie; and now she looked down.
"And what does your heart say?"
She spoke very gently in reply.
"Signor, I have not answered him yet; you cannot expect me to answer you."
"A la bonne heure! Little traitress, to say she has no sweethearts! Happy Englishman! What, then, do I distress you? It is not so simple! It is an embarrassment, this proposal that he has made to you! But I will not trouble you further with my questions, little daughter: how can an old jail-bird like myself understand a young linnet-thing that has always been flying and fluttering about in happiness and the free air? Enfin, let us go! I perceive your little maid is tired of standing and staring; perhaps it is time for you to go back."
She rose, and the three of them slowly proceeded along the gravelled path.
"Your father does not return until next week: must I wait a whole week in this desert of a town before seeing you again, petite?"
"Oh no," said Natalie, smiling; "that is not necessary. If my papa were here now he would certainly ask you to dine with us to-night; may I do so in his place? You will not find much amusement; but Madame Potecki—you knew her husband, perhaps?"
"Potecki the Pole, who was killed?"
"Yes. She will play a little music for you. But there are so many amusements in London, perhaps you would rather not spend your evening with two poor solitary creatures like us."
"My little daughter, to hear you speak, that is all I want; it takes twenty years away from my life; I do not know whether to laugh or to cry. But courage! we will put a good face on our little griefs. This evening—this evening I will pretend to myself something—I am going to live my old life over again—for an hour; I will blow a horn as soon as I have crossed the Erlau, and they will hear it up at the big house among the pines, where the lights are shining through the dark, and they will send a servant down to open the gates; and you will appear at the hall-door, and say, 'Signor Calabressa, why do you make such a noise to awaken the dogs?' And I will say, 'Dear Miss Berezolyi, the pine-woods are frightfully dark; may I not scare away the ghosts?"