"It was my mother who received you," the girl said, in a low voice.
"It was Natalie then; to-night it will be Natalushka."
He spoke lightly, so as not to make these reminiscences too serious. But the conjunction of the two names seemed suddenly to startle the girl. She stopped, and looked him in the face.
"It was you, then," she said, "who sent me the locket?"
"What locket?" he said, with surprise.
"The locket the lady dropped into my lap—'From Natalie to Natalushka.'"
"I declare to you, little daughter, I never heard of it."
The girl looked bewildered.
"Ah, how stupid I am!" she exclaimed. "I could not understand. But if they always called her Natalie, and me Natalushka—"
She paused for a moment to collect her thoughts.
"Signor Calabressa, what does it mean?" she said, almost wildly. "If one sends me a locket—'From Natalie to Natalushka'—was it my mother's? Did she intend it for me? Did she leave it for me with some one, long ago? How could it come into the hands of a stranger?"
Calabressa himself seemed rather bewildered—almost alarmed.
"My little daughter, you have no doubt guessed right," he said, soothingly. "Your mother may have meant it for you—and—and perhaps it was lost—and just recovered—"
"Signor Calabressa," said she—and he could have fancied it was her mother who was speaking in that low, earnest, almost sad voice—"you said you would do me an act of friendship if I asked you. I cannot ask my father; he seems too grieved to speak of my mother at any time; but do you think you could find out who the lady was who brought that locket to me? That would be kind of you, if you could do that."
Humphreys, the delegate from the North, and O'Halloran, the Irish reporter, had been invited by George Brand to dine with him on this evening—Humphreys having to start for Wolverhampton next day—and the three were just sitting down when Lord Evelyn called in, uninvited, and asked if he might have a plate placed for him. Humphreys was anxious that their host should set out with him for the North in the morning; but Brand would not promise. He was obviously thinking of other things. He was at once restless, preoccupied, and silent.
"I hope, my lord, you have come to put our friend here in better spirits," said Humphreys, blushing a little as he ventured to call one of the Brands of Darlington his friend.
"What is the matter?"
At this moment Waters appeared at the door with a letter in his hand. Brand instantly rose, went forward to him and took the letter, and retired into an adjoining room. Without looking, he know from whom it had come.
His hand was shaking as he opened the envelope; but the words that met his eyes were calm.
"My dear friend,—Your letter has given me joy and pain. Joy that you still adhere to your noble resolve; that you have found gladness in your life; that you will work on to the end, whatever the fruit of the work may be. But this other thought of yours—that only distresses me; it clouds the future with uncertainty and doubt, where there should only be clear faith. My dear friend, I must ask you to put away that thought. Let the feu sacre of the regenerator, the liberator, have full possession of you. How I should blame myself if I were to distract you from the aims to which you have devoted your life. I have no one to advise me; but this I know is right. You will, I think, not misunderstand me—you will not think it unmaidenly of me—if I confess to you that I have written these words with some pain, some touch of regret that all is not possible to you that you may desire. But for one soul on devotion. Do I express myself clearly?—you know English is not my native tongue. If we may not go through life together, in the sense that you mean, we need not be far apart; and you will know, as you go forward in the path of a noble duty, that there is not any one who regards you and the work you will do with a greater pride and affection than your friend,
What could it all mean? he asked himself. This was not the letter of a woman who loved another man; she would have been more explicit; she would have given sufficient reason for her refusal. He read again, with a beating heart, with a wild hope, that veiled and subtle expression of regret. Was it not that she was prepared to sacrifice forever those dreams of a secure and happy and loving life, that come naturally to a young girl, lest they should interfere with what she regarded as the higher duty, the more imperative devotion? In that case, it was for a firmer nature than her own to take this matter in hand. She was but a child; knowing nothing of the sorrows of the world, of the necessity of protection, of the chances the years might bring. Scarcely conscious of what he did—so eagerly was his mind engaged—he opened a drawer and locked the letter in. Then he went hastily into the other room.
"Evelyn," said he, "will you take my place, like a good fellow? I shall be back as soon as I can. Waters will get you everything you want."
"But about Wolverhampton, Mr. Brand?" shouted Humphreys after him.
There was no answer; he was half-way down the stairs.
When the hansom arrived in Curzon Street a hurried glance showed him that the dining-room was lit up. She was at home, then: that was enough. For the rest, he was not going to trouble himself with formalities when so beautiful a prize might still be within his reach.
He knocked at the door; the little Anneli appeared.
"Anneli," said he, "I want to see Miss Lind for a moment—say I shall not detain her, if there is any one with her—"
"They are in the dining-room, sir; Madame Potecki, and a strange gentleman—"
"Ask your mistress to let me see her for one moment; don't you understand?"
"They are just finishing dinner, sir: if you will step up to the drawing-room they will be there in a minute or two."
But at last he got the little German maid to understand that he wished to see Miss Lind alone for the briefest possible time; and that she was to carry this message in an undertone to her mistress. By himself he made his way up-stairs to the drawing-room; the lamps were lit.
He lifted books, photographs, and what not, with trembling fingers, and put them down again without knowing it. He was thinking, not looking. And he was trying to force himself into a masterful mood. She was only a child, he kept repeating to himself—only a child, who wanted guidance, instruction, a protecting hand. It was not her fancies, however generous and noble, that should shape the destinies of two lives. A beautiful child, ignorant of the world and its evil: full of dreams of impossible and unnecessary self-sacrifice, she was not one to ordain; surely her way in life was to be led, and cherished, and loved, trusting to the stronger hand for guidance and safety.
There was a slight rustle outside, and presently Natalie entered the room. She was pale—perhaps she looked all the paler that she wore the long, sweeping black dress she had worn at Lady Evelyn's. In silence she gave him her hand; he took it in both his.
It was a cry of entreaty, almost of pain; for this fond vision of his of her being only a child, to be mastered and guided, had fled the moment he caught sight of this tall and beautiful woman, whose self-command, despite that paleness and a certain apprehension in the dark eyes, was far greater than his own.
"Natalie, you must give me a clearer answer."
He tried to read the answer in her eyes; but she lowered them as she spoke.
"Was not my answer clear?" she said, gently. "I wished not to give you pain."
"But was all your answer there?" he said quickly. "Were there no other reasons? Natalie! don't you know that, if you regretted your decision ever so little—if you thought twice about it—if even now you can give me leave to hope that one day you will be my wife—there were no reasons at all in your letter for your refusing—none at all? If you love me even so little that you regret—"
"I must not listen to you," she said hurriedly. "No, no. My answer was best for us both. I am sorry if it pains you; but you have other things to think of; we have our separate duties in the world—duties that are of first importance. My dear friend," she continued, with an air of appeal, "don't you see how I am situated? I have no one to advise me—not even my father, though I can guess what he would say. I know what he would say; and my heart tells me that I have done right."
"One word," said he. "This you must answer me frankly. Is there no other reason for your refusal? Is your heart free to choose?"
She looked up and met his eyes for a moment: only for a moment.
"I understand you," she said, with some slight color mounting to the pale clear olive of her brow. "No, there is not any reason like that."
A quick, proud light leaped into his eyes.
"Then," said he, "I refuse to accept your refusal. Natalie, you will be my wife!"
"Oh, do not say that—do not think of it. I have done wrong even to listen, to let you speak—"
"But what I say is true. I claim you, as surely as I now hold your hand—"
There were two people coming into the room; he did not care if there were a regiment. He relinquished her hand, it is true; but there was a proud and grateful look on his face; he did not even turn to regard the new-comers.
These were Madame Potecki and Calabressa. The little Polish lady had misconstrued Natalie's parting words to mean that some visitors had arrived, and that she and Calabressa were to follow when they pleased. Now that they had appeared in the drawing-room, they could not fail to perceive how matters stood, and, in fact, the little gentlewoman was on the point of retiring. But Natalie was quite mistress of the situation. She reminded Madame Potecki that she had met Mr. Brand before. She introduced Calabressa to the stranger, saying that he was a friend of her father's.
"It is opportune—it is a felicitous circumstance," said Calabressa, in his nasal French. "Mademoiselle, behold the truth. If I do not have a cigarette after my food, I die—veritably I die! Now your friend, the friend of the house, surely he will take compassion on me; and we will have a cigarette together in some apartment."
Here he touched Brand's elbow, having sidled up to him. On any other occasion Brand would have resented the touch, the invitation, the mere presence of this theatrical-looking albino. But he was not in a captious mood. How could he refuse when he heard Natalie say, in her soft, low voice,
"Will you be so kind, Mr. Brand? Anneli will light up papa's little smoking-room."
Directly afterward he found himself in the small study, alone with this odd-looking person, whom he easily recognized as the stranger who had been walking in the Park with Natalie in the morning. Closer inspection rendered him less afraid of this rival.
Calabressa rolled a cigarette between his fingers, and lit it.
"I ask your pardon, monsieur. I ask your pardon beforehand. I am about to be impertinent; it is necessary. If you will tell me some things, I will tell you some things which it may be better for you to know. First, then, I assume that you wish to marry that dear child, that beautiful young lady up-stairs."
"My good friend, you are a little bit too outrageous," said Brand.
"Ah! Then I must begin. You know, perhaps, that the mother of this young lady is alive?"
"I perceive you do not know," said Calabressa, coolly. "I thought you would know—I thought you would guess. A child might guess. She told me you had seen the locket—Natalie to Natalushka—was not that enough?"
"If Miss Lind herself did not guess that her mother was alive, how should I?"
"If you have been brought up for sixteen or eighteen years to mourn one as dead, you do not quickly imagine that he or she is not dead: you perceive?"
"Well, it is extraordinary enough," said Brand, thoughtfully. "With such a daughter, if she has the heart of a mother at all, how could she remain away from her for sixteen years?"
A thought struck him, and his forehead colored quickly.
"There was no disgrace?"
At this word Calabressa started, and the small eyes flashed fire.
"I tell you, monsieur, that it is not in my presence that any one must mention the word disgrace and also the name of Natalie Berezolyi. No; I will answer—I myself—I will answer for the good name of Natalie Berezolyi, by the bounty of Heaven!"
He shrugged his shoulders.
"You are ignorant—you made a mistake. And I—well, you perceive, monsieur, that I am not ashamed to confess—I loved her; she was the radiant light, the star of my life!"
"La lumiere rayonnante, l'etoile de ma vie!"—the phrases sounded ridiculous enough when uttered by this histrionic person; but even his self-conscious gesticulation did not offend Brand. This man, at all events, had loved the mother of Natalie.
"Then it was some very powerful motive that kept mother and daughter apart?" said he.
"Yes; I cannot explain it all to you, if I quite know it all. But every year the mother comes with a birthday present of flowers for the child, and watches to see her once or twice; and then away back she goes to the retreat of her father. Ah, the devotion of that beautiful saint! If there is a heaven at all, Natalie Berezolyi will be among the angels."
"Then you have come to tell Natalie that her mother is alive. I envy you. How grateful the girl will be to you!"
"I? What, I? No, truly, I dare not. And that is why I wish to speak to you: I thought perhaps you would guess, or find out: then I say, do not utter a word! Why do I give you this secret? Why have I sought to speak with you, monsieur? Well, if you will not speak, I will. Something the little Natalushka said—to me she must always be the little Natalushka in name, though she is so handsome a woman now—something she said to me revealed a little secret. Then I said, 'Perhaps Natalushka will have a happier life than Natalie has had, only her husband must be discreet.' Now, monsieur, listen to me. What I said to Natalushka I say to you: do not thwart her father's wishes. He is a determined man, and angry when he is opposed."
"My good sir, other people may have an ounce or two of determination also. You mean that I must never let Natalie know that her mother is alive, for fear of Lind? Is that what you mean? Come, then!"
He strode to the door, and had his hand on the handle, when Calabressa jumped up and caught him, and interposed.
"For Heaven's sake—for Heaven's sake, monsieur, why be so inconsiderate, so rash?"
"Has the dread of this man frightened you out of your wits?"
"He is invulnerable—and implacable," said Calabressa. "But he is a good friend when he has his own way. Why not be friends? You will have to ask him for his daughter. Consider, monsieur, that is something."
"Well, there is reason in that," Brand said, reflectively. "And I am inclined to be friendly with every one to-night, Signor Calabressa. It may be that Lind has his reasons; and he is the natural guardian of his daughter—at present. But she might have another guardian, Signor Calabressa?"
"The wicked one!—she has promised herself to you? And she told me she had no sweethearts, the rogue!"
"No, she has not promised. But what may not one dare to hope for, when one sees her so generous and kind? She is like her mother, is she not? Now I am going to slip away, Signor Calabressa; when you have had another cigarette, will you go up-stairs and explain to the two ladies that I have three friends who are now dining at my house, and I must get back to them?"
Calabressa rose, and took the taller man's hand in his.
"I think our little Natalushka is right in trusting herself to you; I think you will be kind to her; I know you will be brave enough to protect her. All very well. But you English are so headstrong. Why not a little caution, a little prudence, to smooth the way through life?"
Brand laughed: but he had taken a liking to this odd-looking man.
"Now, good-night, Signor Calabressa. You have done me a great service. And if Natalie's mother wishes to see her daughter—well, I think the opportunity will come. In the mean time, I will be quite cautious and prudent, and compromise nobody; even if I cannot wholly promise to tremble at the name of the Invulnerable and the Implacable."
"Ah, monsieur," said Calabressa, with a sigh, his gay gesticulation having quite left him, "I hope I have done no mischief. It was all for the little Natalushka. It will be so much better for you and for her to be on good terms with Ferdinand Lind."
"We will see," Brand said, lightly. "The people in this part of the world generally do as they're done by."
AT THE CULTURVEREIN.
On calm reflection, Calabressa gave himself the benefit of his own approval; and, on the whole, was rather proud of his diplomacy. He had revealed enough, and not too much; he had given the headstrong Englishman prudent warnings and judicious counsel; he had done what he could for the future of the little Natalushka, who was the daughter of Natalie Berezolyi. But there was something more.
He went up-stairs.
"My dear little one," he said, in his queer French, "behold me—I come alone. Your English friend sends a thousand apologies—he has to return to his guests: is it an English custom to leave guests in such a manner? Ah, Madame Potecki, there is a time in one's life when one does strange things, is there not? When a farewell before strangers is hateful—impossible; when you rather go away silently than come before strangers and shake hands, and all the rest. What, wicked little one, you look alarmed! Is it a secret, then? Does not madame guess anything?"
"I entreat you, Signor Calabressa, not to speak in riddles," said Natalie, hastily. "See, here is a telegram from papa. He will be back in London on Monday next week. You can stay to see him, can you not?"'
"Mademoiselle, do you not understand that I am not my own master for two moments in succession? For this present moment I am; the next I may be under orders. But if my freedom, my holiday, lasts—yes, I shall be glad to see your father, and I will wait. In the mean time, I must use up my present moment. Can you give me the address of Vincent Beratinsky?"
She wrote it down for him; it was a number in Oxford Street.
"Now I will add my excuses to those of the tall Englishman," said he, rising. "Good-night, madame. Good-night, mademoiselle—truly, it is a folly to call you the little Natalushka, who are taller than your beautiful mother. But it was the little Natalushka I was thinking about for many a year. Good-night, wicked little one, with your secrets!"
He kissed her hand, bowed once more to the little Polish lady, and left.
When, after considerable difficulty—for he was exceedingly near-sighted—he made out the number in Oxford Street, he found another caller just leaving. This stranger glanced at him, and instantly said, in a low voice,
"The night is dark, brother."
Calabressa started; but the other gave one or two signs that reassured him.
"I knew you were in London, signore, and I recognized you; we have your photograph in Lisle Street. My name is Reitzei—"
"Ah!" Calabressa exclaimed, with a new interest, as he looked at the pallid-faced young man.
"And if you wish to see Beratinsky, I will take you to him. I find he is at the Culturverein: I was going there myself." So Calabressa suffered himself to be led away.
At this time the Culturverein used to meet in a large hall in a narrow lane off Oxford Street. It was an association of persons, mostly Germans, connected in some way or other with art, music, or letters—a merry-hearted, free-and-easy little band of people, who met every evening to laugh and talk and joke and generally forget the world and all its cares. The evening usually began with Bavarian beer, sonatas, and comic lectures; then Rhine wines began to appear, and of course these brought with them songs of love, and friendship, and patriotism; occasionally, when the older and wiser folk had gone, sweet champagne and a wild frolic prevailed until daylight came to drive the revellers out. Beratinsky belonged to the Verein by reason of his having at one time betaken himself to water-color drawing, in order to keep himself alive.
When Calabressa entered the large, long hall, the walls of which were plentifully hung with sketches in color and cartoons in black and white, the fertig!—los! period had not arrived. On the contrary, the meeting was exceedingly demure, almost dull; for a German music professor, seated at the piano on the platform, was playing one of his own compositions, which, however beautiful, was of considerable length; and his audience had relapsed into half-hushed conversation over their light cigars and tall glasses of Bairisch.
Beratinsky had to come along to the entrance-hall to enter the names of his visitors in a book. He was a little man, somewhat corpulent, with bushy black eyebrows, intensely black eyes, and black closely-cropped beard. The head was rather handsome; the figure not.
"Ah, Calabressa, you have come alive again!" he said, speaking in pretty fair Italian. "We heard you were in London. What is it?"
The last phrase was uttered in a low voice, though there was no by-stander. But Calabressa, with a lofty gesture, replied,
"My friend, we are not always on commissions. Sometimes we have a little liberty—a little money—a notion in our head. And if one cannot exactly travel en prince, n'importe! we have our little excursion. And if one has one's sweetheart to see? Do you know, friend Beratinsky, that I have been dining with Natalie—the little Natalushka, as, she used to be called?"
Beratinsky glanced quickly at him with the black, piercing eyes.
"Ah, the beautiful child! the beautiful child!" Calabressa exclaimed, as if he was addressing some one not present. "The mouth sweet, pathetic, like that in Titian's Assumption: you have seen the picture in the Venice Academy? But she is darker than Titian's Virgin; she is of the black, handsome Magyar breed, like her mother. You never saw her mother, Beratinsky?"
"No," said the other, rather surlily. "Come, sit down and have a cigar."
"A cigarette—a cigarette and a little cognac, if you please," said Calabressa, when the three companions had gone along to the middle of the hall and taken their seats. "Ah, it was such a surprise to me: the sight of her grown to be a woman, and the perfect, beautiful image of her mother—the very voice too—I could have thought it was a dream."
"Did you come here to talk of nothing but Lind's daughter?" said Beratinsky, with scant courtesy.
"Precisely," remarked Calabressa, in absolute good-humor. "But before that a word."
He glanced round this assemblage of foreign-looking persons, no doubt guessing at the various nationalities indicated by physique and complexion—Prussian, Pole, Rhinelander, Swiss, and what not. If the company, in English eyes, might have looked Bohemian—that is to say, unconventional in manner and costume—the Bohemianism, at all events, was of a well-to-do, cheerful, good-humored character. There was a good deal of talking besides the music.
"These gentlemen," said Calabressa, in a low voice, "are they friends—are they with us?"
"Only one or two," said Beratinsky.
"You do not come here to proselytize, then?"
"One must amuse one's self sometimes," said the little, fat, black-haired Pole, somewhat gruffly.
"Then one must take care what one says!"
"I presume that is generally the case, friend Calabressa."
But Calabressa was not offended. He was interested in what was going on.
"Par exemple," he said, in his airy way, "que vient faire la le drole?"
The music had come to an end, and the spectacled professor had retired amidst a thunder of applause. His successor, who had attracted Calabressa's attention, was a gentleman who had mounted on a high easel an immense portfolio of cartoons roughly executed in crayon; and as he exhibited them one by one, he pointed out their characteristics with a long stick, after the manner of a showman. His demeanor was serious; his face was grave; his tone was simple and business-like. But as he unfolded these rude drawings, Calabressa, who understood but little German, was more and more astonished to find the guttural laughter around him increase and increase until the whole place resounded with roars, while some of the old Herren held their sides in pain, as the tears of the gigantic mirth streamed down their cheeks. Those who were able hammered loud applause on the table before them; others rolled in their chairs; many could only lie back and send their merriment up to the reverberating roof in shrill shrieks and yells.
"In the name of Heaven, what is it all about?" said Calabressa. "Have the people gone mad?"
"Illustrations of German proverbs," said Beratinsky, who, despite his surly manner, was himself forced to smile.
Well, Calabressa had indeed come here to talk about Lind's daughter; but it was impossible, amidst this wild surging to and fro of Olympian laughter. At last, however, the showman came to an end of his cartoons, and solemnly made his bow, and amidst tumultuous cheering resumed his place among his companions.
There was a pause, given over to chatter and joking, and Calabressa quickly embraced this opportunity.
"You are a friend of the little Natalushka—of the beautiful Natalie, I should say, perhaps?"
"Lind's daughter does not choose to have many friends," said Beratinsky, curtly.
This was not promising; and, indeed, the corpulent little Pole showed great disinclination to talk about the young lady who had so laid hold of Calabressa's heart. But Calabressa was not to be denied, when it was the welfare of the daughter of Natalie Berezolyi that was concerned.
"Yes, yes, friend Beratinsky, of course she is very much alone. It is rather a sad thing for a young girl to be so much alone."
"And if she chooses to be alone?" said Beratinsky, with a sharpness that resembled the snarl of a terrier.
Perhaps it was to get rid of the topic that Beratinsky here joined in a clamorous call for "Nageli! Nageli!" Presently a fresh-colored young Switzer, laughing and blushing tremendously, went up to the platform and took his seat at the piano, and struck a few noisy chords. It was a Tyrolese song he sung, with a jodel refrain of his own invention:
"Hat einer ein Schatzerl, So bleibt er dabei, Er nimmt sie zum Weiberl, Und liebt sie recht treu. Dann fangt man die Wirthschaft Gemeinschaftlich an, Und liebt sich, und herzt sich So sehr als man kann!"
Great cheering followed the skilfully executed jodel. In the midst of it, one of the members rose and said, in German,
"Meine Herren! You know our good friend Nageli is going to leave us; perhaps we shall not see him again for many years. I challenge you to drink this toast: 'Nageli, and his quick return!' I say to him what some of the shopkeepers in our Father-land say to their customers, 'Kommen Sie bald wieder!'"
Here there was a great shouting of "Nageli! Nageli!" until one started the chorus, which was immediately and sonorously sung by the whole assemblage,
"Hoch soll er leben! Hoch soll er leben! Dreimal hoch!"
Another pause, chiefly devoted to the ordering of Hochheimer and the lighting of fresh cigars. The souls of the sons of the Father-land were beginning to warm.
"Friend Beratinsky," said the anxious-hearted albino, "perhaps you know that many years ago I knew the mother of Natalie Lind; she was a neighbor—a companion—of mine: and I am interested in the little one. A young girl sometimes has need of friends. Now, you are in a position—"
"Friend Calabressa, you may save your breath," said the other, coldly. "The young lady might have had my friendship if she had chosen. She did not choose. I suppose she is old enough—and proud enough—to choose her own friends. Yes, yes, friend Calabressa, I have heard. But we will say nothing more: now listen to this comical fellow."
Calabressa was not thinking of the young Englishman who now sat down at the piano; a strange suspicion was beginning to fill his mind. Was it possible, he began inwardly to ask, that Vincent Beratinsky had himself aspired to marry the beautiful Hungarian girl?
This good-looking young English fellow, with a gravity equal to that of the sham showman, explained to his audience that he was composing an operetta, of which he would give them a few passages. He was a skilful pianist. He explained, as his fingers ran up and down the keys, that the scene was in Ratcliffe Highway. A tavern: a hornpipe. Jack ashore. Unseemly squabbles: here there were harsh discords and shrill screams. Drunkenness: the music getting very helpless. Then the daylight comes—the chirping of sparrows—Jack wanders out—the breath of the morning stirs his memories—he thinks of other days. Then comes in Jack's song, which neither Calabressa nor any one else present could say was meant to be comic, or pathetic, or a demoniac mixture of both. The accompaniment which the handsome young English fellow played was at once rhythmical, and low and sad, like the wash of waves:
"Oh, the days were long, And the summers were long, When Jane and I went courtin'; The hills were blue beyond the sky; The heather was soft where we did lie; We kissed our fill, did Jane and I, When Jane and I went courtin'.
"When Jane and I went courtin', Oh, the days were long, And the summers were long! We walked by night beyond the quay; Above, the stars; below, the sea; And I kissed Jane, and Jane kissed me, When Jane and I went courtin'.
"But Jane she married the sodger-chap; An end to me and my courtin'. And I took ship, and here I am; And where I go, I care not a damn— Rio, Jamaica, Seringapatam— Good-bye to Jane and the courtin'."
This second professor of gravity was abundantly cheered too when he rose from the piano; for the music was quaint and original with a sort of unholy, grotesque pathos running through it. Calabressa resumed:
"My good Beratinsky, what is it that you have heard?"
"No matter. Natalie Lind has no need of your good offices, Calabressa. She can make friends for herself, and quickly enough, too."
Calabressa's eyes were not keen, but his ears were; he detected easily the personal rancor in the man's tone.
"You are speaking of some one: the Englishman?"
Beratinsky burst out laughing.
"Listen, Reitzei! Even my good friend Calabressa perceives. He, too, has encountered the Englishman. Oh yes, we must all give way to him, else he will stamp on our toes with his thick English boots. You, Reitzei: how long is he to allow you to retain your office?"
"Better for him if he does not interfere with me," said the younger man. "I was always against the English being allowed to become officers. They are too arrogant; they want everything under their direction. Take their money, but keep them outside: that would have been my rule."
"And this Englishman," said Beratinsky, with a smile, though there was the light of malice in his eye, "this Englishman is not content with wanting to have the mastery of poor devils like you and me; he also wishes to marry the beautiful Natalie—the beautiful Natalie, who has hitherto been as proud as the Princess Brunhilda. Now, now, friend Calabressa, do not protest. Every one has ears, has eyes. And when papa Lind comes home—when he finds that this Englishman has been making a fool of him, and professing great zeal when he was only trying to steal away the daughter—what then, friend Calabressa?"
"A girl must marry," said Calabressa.
"I thought she was too proud to think of such things," said the other, scornfully. "However, I entreat you to say no more. What concern have I with Natalie Lind? I tell you, let her make more new friends."
Calabressa sat silent, his heart as heavy as lead. He had come with some notion that he would secure one other—powerful, and in all of Lind's secrets—on whom Natalie could rely, should any emergency occur in which she needed help. But these jealous and envious taunts, these malignant prophecies, only too clearly showed him in what relation Vincent Beratinsky stood with regard to the daughter of Natalie Berezolyi and the Englishman, her lover.
Calabressa sat silent. When some one began to play the zither, he was thinking not of the Culturverein in London, but of the dark pine woods above the Erlau, and of the house there, and of Natalie Berezolyi as she played in the evening. He would ask Natalushka if she, too, played the zither.
George Brand walked away from the house in Curzon Street in a sort of bewilderment of hope and happiness and gratitude. He would even try to accept Calabressa's well-meant counsel: why should he not be friends with everybody? The world had grown very beautiful; there was to be no more quarrelling in it, or envy, or malice.
In the dark he almost ran against a ragged little child who was selling flowers.
"Will you buy a rose-bud, sir?" said she.
"What?" he said, severely, "selling flowers at this time of night? Get away home with you and get your supper, and go to bed;" but he spoiled the effect of his sharp admonition by giving the girl all the silver he had in his pocket.
He found the little dinner-party in a most loquacious mood. O'Halloran in especial was in full swing. The internal economy of England was to be readjusted. The capital must be transferred to the centre of the real wealth and brain-power of the country—that is to say, somewhere about Leeds or Manchester. This proposition greatly pleased Humphreys, the man from the North, who was quite willing to let the Royal Academy, the South Kensington and National Galleries, and the British Museum remain in London, so long as the seat of government was transferred to Huddersfield or thereabouts. But O'Halloran drew such a harrowing picture of the effect produced on the South of England intellect by its notorious and intense devotion to the arts, that Humphreys was almost convicted of cruelty.
However, if these graceless people thought to humbug the hard-headed man from the North, he succeeded on one occasion in completely silencing his chief enemy, O'Halloran. That lover of paradox and idle speculation was tracing the decline of superstition to the introduction of the use of steam, and was showing how, wherever railways went in India, ghosts disappeared; whereupon the Darlington man calmly retorted that, as far as he could see, the railways in this country were engaged in making as many ghosts as they could possibly disperse in India. This flank attack completely surprised and silenced the light skirmisher, who sought safety in lighting another cigar.
More serious matters, however, were also talked about, and Humphreys was eager that Brand should go down to Wolverhampton with him next morning. Brand pleaded but for one day's delay. Humphreys reminded him that certain members of the Political Committee of the Trades-union Congress would be at Wolverhampton, and that he had promised to see them. After that, silence.
At last, as Humphreys and O'Halloran were leaving, Brand said, with an effort,
"No, it is no use, Humphreys. I must remain in London one more day. You go down to-morrow; I shall come by the first train next morning. Molyneux and the others won't be leaving for some days."
"Very well, sir; good-night, sir."
Brand returned into the room, and threw himself into an easy-chair; his only companion now was his old friend Evelyn.
The younger man regarded him.
"I can tell the whole story, Brand; I have been reading it in your face. You were troubled and perplexed before you got that letter. It gave some hope. Off you went to see Natalie; you came back with something in your manner that told me you had seen her and had been received favorably. Now it is only one more day of happiness you hunger for, before going up to the hard work of the North. Well, I don't wonder. But, at the same time, you look a little too restless and anxious for a man who has just won such a beautiful sweetheart."
"I am not so lucky as that, Evelyn," said he, absently.
"What, you did not see her?"
"Oh yes, I saw her; and I hope. But of course one craves for some full assurance when such a prize is within reach; and—and I suppose one's nerves are a little excited, so that you imagine possibilities and dangers—"
He rose, and took a turn up and down the room.
"It is the old story, Evelyn. I distrust Lind."
"What has that to do with it?"
"As you say, what has that to do with it? If I had Natalie's full promise, I should care for nothing. She is a woman; she is not a school girl, to be frightened. If I had only that, I should start off for the North with a light heart."
"Why not secure it, then?"
"Perhaps it is scarcely fair to force myself on her at present until her father returns. Then she will be more her own mistress. But the doubt—I don't know when I may be back from the North—" At last he stopped short. "Yes, I will see her to-morrow at all hazards."
By-and-by he began to tell his friend of the gay-hearted old albino he had encountered at Lind's house; though in the mean time he reserved to himself the secret of Natalie's mother being alive.
"Lind must have an extraordinary faculty," he said at length, "of inspiring fear, and of getting people to obey him."
"He does not look a ferocious person," Lord Evelyn said, with a smile. "I have always found him very courteous and pleasant—frank, amiable, and all the rest of it."
"And yet here is this man Calabressa, an old friend of his; and he talks of Lind with a sort of mysterious awe. He is not a man whom you must think of thwarting. He is the Invulnerable, the Implacable. The fact is, I was inclined to laugh at my good friend Calabressa; but all the same, it was quite apparent that the effect Lind had produced on his mind was real enough."
"Well, you know," said Lord Evelyn, "Lind has a great organization to control, and he must be a strict disciplinarian. It is the object of his life; everything else is of minor importance. Even you confess that you admire his tremendous power of work."
"Yes, I do. I admire his administrative capacity; it is wonderful. But I don't believe for a moment that it was his mind that projected this big scheme. That must have been the work of an idealist, perhaps of a dozen of them, all adding and helping. I think he almost said as much to me one night. His business is to keep the machinery in working order, and he does it to perfection."
"There is one thing about him: he never forgets, and he never forgives. You remember the story of Count Verdt?"
"I have cause to remember it. I thought for a moment the wretch had committed suicide because I caught him cheating."
"I have been told that Lind played with that fellow like a cat with a mouse. Verdt got hints from time to time that his punishment as a traitor was overtaking him; and yet he was allowed to live on in constant fear. And it was the Camorra, and not Lind, or any of Lind's friends, who finished him after all."
"Well, that was implacable enough, to be sure; to have death dogging the poor wretch's heels, and yet refusing to strike."
"For myself, I don't pity him much," said Lord Evelyn, as he rose and buttoned his coat. "He was a fool to think he could play such a trick and escape the consequences. Now, Brand, how am I to hear from you to-morrow? You know I am in a measure responsible."
"However it ends, I am grateful to you, Evelyn; you may be sure of that. I will write to you from Wolverhampton, and let you know the worst, or the best."
"The best, then: we will have no worsts."
He said good-bye, and went whistling cheerfully down the narrow oak staircase. He at least was not very apprehensive about the results of the next day's interview.
But how brief was this one day, with its rapidly passing opportunities; and then the stern necessity for departure and absence. He spent half the night in devising how best he could get speech of her, in a roundabout fashion, without the dread of the interference of friends. And at last he hit upon a plan which might not answer; but he could think of nothing else.
He went in the morning and secured a box at Covent Garden for that evening. Then he called at Lisle Street, and got Calabressa's address. He found Calabressa in his lodgings, shivering and miserable, for the day was wet, misty, and cold.
"You can escape from the gloom of our climate, Signor Calabressa," said he. "What do you say to going to the opera to-night?"
"Your opera?" said he, with a gesture indicative of still deeper despair. "You forget I come from the home, the nursery of opera."
"Yes," said Brand, good-naturedly. "Great singers train in your country, but they sing here: that is the difference. Do not be afraid; you will not be disappointed. See, I have brought you a box; and if you want companions, why not ask Miss Lind and Madame Potecki to go with you and show you the ways of our English opera-houses?"
"Ah, the little Natalushka!" said Calabressa, eagerly. "Will she go? Do you think she will go? Ma foi, it is not often I have the chance of taking such a beautiful creature to the opera, if she will go! What must I do?"
"You will have to go and beg her to be kind to you. Say you have the box—you need not mention how: ask if she will escort you, she and Madame Potecki. Say it is a kindness: she cannot help doing a kindness."
"There you are right, monsieur: do not I see it in her eyes? can I not hear it in her voice?"
"Well, that you must do at once, before she goes out for her walk at noon."
"To go out walking on a day like this?"
"She will go out, nevertheless; and you must go and intercept her, and pray her to do you this kindness."
"You must come to me again, and we will get an English evening costume for you somehow. Then, two bouquets; I will get those for you, and send them to them to the box to await you."
"But you yourself, monsieur; will you not be of the party?"
"Perhaps you had better say nothing about me, signore; for one is so busy nowadays. But if I come into the stalls; if I see you and the ladies in the box, then I shall permit myself to call upon you; do you understand?"
"Parfaitement," said Calabressa, gravely. Then he laughed slightly. "Ah, monsieur, you English are not good diplomatists. I perceive that you wish to say more; that you are afraid to say more; that you are anxious and a little bit demure, like a girl. What you wish is this, is it not: if I say to Madame Potecki, 'Madame, I am a stranger; will you show me the promenade, that I may behold the costumes of the beautiful English ladies?' madame answers, 'Willingly.' We go to see the costumes of the beautiful English ladies. Why should you come? You would not leave the young lady all alone in the box?"
"Calabressa," he said, frankly, "I am going away to-morrow morning: do you understand that?"
Calabressa bowed gravely.
"To comprehend that is easy. Allons, let us play out the little plot for the amusement of that rogue of a Natalushka. And if she does not thank me—eh bien! perhaps her papa will: who knows?"
Before the overture began that evening, Brand was in his seat in the stalls; and he had scarcely sat down when he knew, rather than saw, that certain figures were coming into the box which he had been covertly watching. The opera was Fidelio—that beautiful story of a wife's devotion and courage, and reward. As he sat and listened, he knew she was listening too; and he could almost have believed it was her own voice that was pleading so eloquently with the jailer to let the poor prisoner see the light of day for a few minutes in the garden. Would not that have been her prayer, too, in similar circumstances? Then Leonora, disguised as a youth, is forced to assist in the digging of her own husband's grave, Pizarro enters; the unhappy prisoners are driven back to their cells and chains, and Leonora can only call down the vengeance of Heaven on the head of the tyrant.
At the end of the act Brand went up to the box and tapped outside. It was opened from within, and he entered. Natalie turned to receive him; she was a little pale, he thought; he took a seat immediately behind her; and there was some general talk until the opening of the second act restored silence.
For him it was a strange silence, that the music outside did not disturb. Sitting behind her, he could study the beautiful profile and the outward curve of her dark eyelashes; he could see where here and there a delicate curl of the raven-black hair, escaping from the mob-cap of rose-red silk, lay about the small ear or wandered down to the shapely white neck; he could almost, despite the music, fancy he heard her breathe, as the black gossamer and scarlet flowers of an Indian shawl stirred over the shining satin dress. Her fan and handkerchief were perfumed with white-rose.
And to-morrow he would be in Wolverhampton, amidst grimy streets and dirty houses, in a leaden-hued atmosphere laden with damp and the fumes of chimneys, practically alone, with days of monotonous work before him, and solitary evenings to be spent in cheerless inns. What wonder if this seemed some brief vision of paradise—the golden light and glowing color, the soft strains of music, the scent of white-rose?
Doubtless Natalie had seen this opera of Fidelio many a time before; but she was always intently interested in music; and she had more than once expressed in Brand's hearing her opinion of the conduct of the ladies and gentlemen who make an opera, or a concert, or a play a mere adjunct to their own foolish laughter and tittle-tattle. She recognized the serious aims of a great artist; she listened with deep attention and respect; she could talk idly elsewhere and at other times. And so there was scarcely a word said—except of involuntary admiration—as the opera proceeded. But in the scene where the disguised wife discovers her husband in the prison—where, as Pizarro is about to stab him, she flings herself between them to protect him—Brand could see that Natalie Lind was fast losing her manner of calm and critical attention, and yielding to a profounder emotion. When Leonora reveals herself to her husband, and swears that she will save him, even such a juncture, from his vindictive enemy—
"Si, si, mio dolce amico, La tua Eleonora ti salvera; Affronto il suo furor!"
the girl gave a slight convulsive sob, and her hands were involuntarily clasped. Then, as every one knows, Leonora draws a pistol from her bosom and confronts the tyrant; a trumpet is heard in the distance; relief is near; and the act winds up with the joyful duet between the released husband and the courageous wife—"Destin, destin ormai felice!"
Here it was that Calabressa proposed he should escort Madame Potecki to the cooler air of the large saloon; and madame, who had been young herself, and guessed that the lovers might like to be alone for a few minutes, instantly and graciously acquiesced. But Natalie rose also, a little quickly, and said that Madame Potecki and herself would be glad to have some coffee; and could that be got in the saloon?
Madame Potecki and her companion led the way; but then Brand put his hand on the arm of Natalie and detained her.
"Natalie!" he said, in a low and hurried voice, "I am going away to-morrow. I don't know when I shall see you again. Surely you will give me some assurance—some promise, something I can repeat to myself. Natalie, I know the value of what I am asking; you will give yourself to me?"
She stood by the half-shut door, pale, irresolute, and yet outwardly calm. Her eyes were cast down; she held her fan firmly with both hands.
"Natalie, are you afraid to answer?"
Then the young Hungarian girl raised her eyes, and bravely regarded him, though her face was still pale and apprehensive.
"No," she said, in a low voice. "But how can I answer you more than this—that if I am not to give myself to you I will give myself to no other? I will be your wife, or the wife of no one. Dear friend, I can say no more."
"It is enough."
She went quickly to the front of the box; in both bouquets there were forget-me-nots. She hurriedly selected some, and returned and gave them to him.
"Whatever happens, you will remember that there was one who at least wished to be worthy of your love."
Then they followed their friends into the saloon, and sat down at a small table, though Natalie's hands were trembling so that she could scarcely undo her gloves. And George Brand said nothing; but once or twice he looked into his wife's eyes.
FATHER AND DAUGHTER.
When Ferdinand Lind told Calabressa that Natalie had grown to be a woman, he no doubt meant what he said; but he himself had not the least notion what the phrase implied. He could see, of course, that she had now a woman's years, stature, self-possession; but, for all that, she was still to him only a child—only the dark-eyed, gentle, obedient little Natalushka, who used to be so proud when she was praised for her music, and whose only show of resolution was when she set to work on the grammar of a new language. Indeed, it is the commonest thing in the world for a son, or a daughter, or a friend to grow in years without those nearest them being aware of the fact, until some chance circumstance, some crisis, causes a revelation, and we are astounded at the change that time has insidiously made.
Such a discovery was now about to confront Ferdinand Lind. He was to learn not only that his daughter had left the days of her childhood behind her, but also that the womanhood to which she had attained was of a fine and firm character, a womanhood that rung true when tried. And this is how the discovery was forced on him:
On his arrival in London, Mr. Lind drove first to Lisle Street, to pick up letters on his way home. Beratinsky had little news about business matters to impart; but, instead, he began—as Lind was looking at some of the envelopes—to drop hints about Brand. It was easy to see now, he said, why the rich Englishman was so eager to join them, and give up his life in that way. It was not for nothing. Mr. Lind would doubtless hear more at home; and so forth.
Mr. Lind was thinking of other things; but when he came to understand what these innuendoes meant, he was neither angry nor impatient. He had much toleration for human weakness, and he took it that Beratinsky was only a little off his head with jealousy. He was aware that it had been Beratinsky's ambition to become his son-in-law: a project that swiftly came to an end through the perfect unanimity of father and daughter on that point.
"You are a fool, Beratinsky," he said, as he tied the bundle of letters together. "At your time of life you should not imagine that every one's head is full of philandering nonsense. Mr. Brand has something else to think of; besides, he has been in the midland counties all this time."
"Has he? Who, then, was taking your daughter to dinner-parties, to theatres—I don't know what?"
Lind dealt gently with this madness.
"Who told you?"
"I have eyes and ears."
"Put them to a better use, Beratinsky."
Then he left, and the hansom carried him along to Curzon Street. Natalie herself flew to the door when she heard the cab drive up: there she was to receive him, smiling a welcome, and so like her mother that he was almost startled. She caught his face in her two hands and kissed him.
"Ah, why did you not let me come to meet you at Liverpool?"
"There were too many with me, Natalie. I was busy. Now get Anneli to open my portmanteau, and you can find out for yourself all the things I have brought for you."
"I do not care for them, papa; I like to have you yourself back."
"I suppose you were rather dull, Natalushka, being all by yourself?"
"Sometimes. But I will tell you all that has happened when you are having breakfast."
"I have had breakfast, child. Now I shall get through my letters, and you can tell me all that has happened afterward."
This was equivalent to a dismissal; so Natalie went up-stairs, leaving her father to go into the small study, where lay another bundle of letters for him.
Almost the first that he opened was from George Brand; and to his amazement he found, not details about progress in the North, but a simple, straightforward, respectful demand to be permitted to claim the hand of Natalie in marriage. He did not conceal the fact that this proposal had already been made to Natalie herself; he ventured to hope that it was not distasteful to her; he would also hope that her father had no objections to urge. It was surely better that the future of a young girl in her position should be provided for. As regarded by himself, Mr. Lind's acquaintance with him was no doubt but recent and comparatively slight; but if he wished any further and natural inquiry into the character of the man to whom he was asked to intrust his daughter, Lord Evelyn might be consulted as his closest friend. And a speedy answer was requested.
This letter was, on the whole, rather a calm and business-like performance. Brand could appeal to Natalie, and that earnestly and honestly enough; he felt he could not bring himself to make any such appeal to her father. Indeed, any third person reading this letter would have taken it to be more of the nature of a formal demand, or something required by the conventionalities; a request the answer to which was not of tremendous importance, seeing that the two persons most interested had already come to an understanding.
But Mr. Lind did not look at it in that light at all. He was at first surprised; then vexed and impatient, rather than angry; then determined to put an end to this nonsense at once. If he had deemed the matter more serious, he would have sat down and considered it with his customary fore thought; but he was merely irritated.
"Beratinsky was not so mad as I took him to be, after all," he said to himself. "Fortunately, the affair has not gone too far."
He carried the open letter up-stairs, and found Natalie in the drawing-room, dusting some pieces of Venetian glass.
"Natalie," he said, with an abruptness that startled her, and in a tone of anger which was just a little bit affected—"Natalie, what is the meaning of this folly?"
She turned and regarded him. He held the open letter in his hand. She said, calmly,
"I do not understand you."
This only vexed him the more.
"I ask you what you have been doing in my absence?" he said, angrily. "What have you been doing to entitle any man to write me such a letter as this? His affection! your future!—has he not something else to think of? And you—you seem not to have been quite so dull when I was away, after all! Well, it is time to have an end of it. Whatever nonsense may have been going on, I hope you have both of you come to your senses. Let me hear no more of it!"
Now she saw clearly what the letter must contain—what had stirred her father to such an unusual exhibition of wrath. She was a little pale, but not afraid. There was no tremor in her voice as she spoke.
"I am sorry, papa, you should speak to me like that. I think you forget that I am no longer a child. I have done nothing that I am ashamed of; and if Mr. Brand has written to you, I am willing to share the responsibility of anything he says. You must remember, papa, that I am a woman, and that I ought to have a voice in anything that concerns my own happiness."
He looked at her almost with wonder, as if he did not quite recognize her. Was this the gentle-natured little Natalushka, whose eyes would fill with tears if she was scolded even in fun?—this tall, self-possessed girl with the pale face, and the firm and even tones?
"Do you mean to tell me, Natalie, that it is with your consent Brand has written to me?" her father asked, with frowning brows.
"I did not know he would write. I expected he would."
"Perhaps," said he, with an ironical smile, "perhaps you have taken time by the forelock, and already promised to be his wife?"
The answer was given with the same proud composure.
"I have not. But I have promised, if I am not his wife, never to be the wife of any other man."
It was now that Lind began to perceive how serious this matter was. This was no school-girl, to be frightened out of a passing fancy. He must appeal to the reason of a woman; and the truth is, that if he had known he had this to undertake, he would not so hastily have gone into that drawing-room with the open letter in his hand.
"Sit down Natalie," he said, quite gently. "I want to talk to you. I spoke hastily; I was surprised and angry. Now let us see calmly how matters stand; I dare say no great harm has been done yet."
She took a seat opposite him; there was not the least sign of any girlish breaking down, even when he spoke to her in this kind way.
"I have no doubt you acted quite rightly and prudently when I was away; and as for Mr. Brand, well, any one can see that you have grown to be a good-looking young woman, and of course he would like to have a good-looking young wife to show off among the country people, and to go riding to hounds with him. Let us see what is involved in your becoming his wife, supposing that were ever seriously to be thought of. You give up all your old sympathies and friends, your interest in the work we have on hand, and you get transferred to a Buckinghamshire country-house to take the place of the old house-keeper. If you do not hear anything of what is going on—of our struggles—of your friends all over Europe—what of that? You will have the kitchen-garden to look after, and poultry to feed; and your neighbors will talk to you at dinner about foxes and dogs and horses and the clergyman's charities. It will be a healthy life, Natalie: perhaps you will get stout and rosy, like an English matron. But your old friends—you will have forgotten them."
"Never!—never!" she said, vehemently; and, despite herself, her eyes filled with tears.
"Then we will take Mr. Brand. The Buckinghamshire house is open again. An Englishman's house is his castle; there is a great deal of work in superintending it, its entertainments, its dependents. Perhaps he has a pack of foxhounds; no doubt he is a justice of the peace, and the terror of poachers. But in the midst of all this hunting, and giving of dinner-parties, and shooting of pheasants, do you think he has much time or thought for the future of the millions of poor wretches all over Europe who once claimed his care? Not much! That was in his days of irresponsible bachelorhood. Now he is settled down—he is a country gentleman. The world can set itself right without him. He is anxious about the price of wheat."
"Ah, how you mistake him, papa!" said she, proudly. And there was a proud light on her face too as she rose and quickly went to a small escritoire close by. A few seconds sufficed her to write a short note, which she brought back to her father.
"There," said she, "I will abide by that test. If he says 'yes,' I will never see him again—never speak one word to him again."
Her father took the note and read it. It was as follows:
"My Dear Friend,—I am anxious about the future for both of us. If you will promise me, now and at once, to give up the work you are engaged in, I will be your wife, when and where you will.
"Send it!" she said, proudly. "I am not afraid. If he says 'yes,' I will never see him again."
The challenge was not accepted. He tore the note in two and flung it into the grate.
"It is time to put an end to this folly," he said impatiently. "I have shown you what persistence in it would bring on yourself. You would be estranged from everything and every one you have hitherto been interested in; you would have to begin a new life, for which you are not fitted; you would be the means of doing our cause an irreparable injury. Yes, I say so frankly. The withdrawal of this man Brand, which would certainly follow, sooner or later, on his marriage, would be a great blow to us. We have need of his work; we have still more need of his money. And it is you, you of all people in the world, who would be the means of taking him away from us!"
"But it is not so, papa," she said in great distress. "Surely you do not think that I am begging to be allowed to become his wife? That is for him to decide; I will follow his wishes as far as I can—as far as you will allow me, papa. But this I know, that, so far from interfering with the work he has undertaken, it would only spur him on. Should I have thought of it otherwise? Ah, surely you know—you have said so to me yourself—he is not one to go back."
"He is an Englishman; you do not understand Englishmen," her father said; and then he added, firmly, "You are not to be deterred by what may happen to yourself. Well, consider what may happen to him. I tell you I will not have this risk run. George Brand is too valuable to us. If you or he persist in this folly, it will be necessary to provide against all contingencies by procuring his banishment."
"Banishment!" she exclaimed, with a quick and frightened look.
"That may not sound much to you," said her father, calmly, "for you have scarcely what may be called a native country. You have lived anywhere, everywhere. It is different with an Englishman, who has his birthplace, his family estate, his friends in England."
"What do you mean, papa?" said she, in a low voice. She had not been frightened by the fancy picture he had drawn of her own future, but this ominous threat about her lover seemed full of menace.
"I say that, at all hazards," Lind continued, looking at her from under the bushy eyebrows, "this folly must be brought to an end. It is not expedient that a marriage between you and Mr. Brand should even be thought of. You have both got other duties, inexorable duties. It is my business to see that nothing comes in the way of their fulfilment. Do you understand?"
She sat dumb now, with a vague fear about the future of her lover; for herself she had no fear.
"Some one must be sent to Philadelphia, to remain there probably for his lifetime. Do not drive me to send George Brand."
"Papa!" It was a cry of appeal; but he paid no heed. This matter he was determined to settle at once.
"Understand, this idle notion must be dropped; otherwise George Brand goes to the States forthwith, and remains there. Fortunately, I don't suppose the matter has gone far enough to cause either of you any deep misery. This is not what one would call a madly impassioned letter."
She scarcely perceived the sneer; some great calamity had befallen her, of which she as yet scarcely knew the extent; she sat mute and bewildered—too bewildered to ask why all this thing should be.
"That may not seem much to you," he said, in the same cold, implacable way. "But banishment for life from his native country, his home, his friends, is something to an Englishman. And if we are likely to lose his work in this country through a piece of sentimental folly, we shall take care not to lose it in America."
"Is that all, papa?"
She seemed too stunned to say any more.
He rose also, and took her hand.
"It is better to have a clear understanding, Natalie. Some might say that I object to your marrying because you are a help to me, and your going away would leave the house empty. Perhaps you may have some kind friend put that notion into your head. But that is not the reason why I speak firmly to you, why I show you you must dismiss this fancy of the moment—if you have entertained it as well as he—as impossible. I have larger interests at stake; I am bound to sacrifice every personal feeling to my duty. And I have shown you what would be the certain result of such a marriage; therefore, I say, such a marriage is not to be thought of. Come, now, Natalie, you claim to be a woman: be a woman! Something higher is wanted from you. What would all our friends think of you if you were to sink into a position like that—the house-keeper of a country squire?"
She said nothing; but she went away to her own room and sat down, her face pale, her heart like lead. And all her thought was of this possible doom hanging over him if he persisted; and she guessed, knowing something of him, whether he was likely to be dissuaded by a threat.
Then, for a second or so, a wild despairing fancy crossed her mind, and her fingers tightened, and the proud mouth grew firm. If it was through her that this penalty of banishment overtook him, why should she not do as others had done?
But no—that was impossible. She had not the courage to make such an offer. She could only sit and think; and the picture before her imagination was that of her lover sailing away from his native land. She saw the ship getting farther and farther away from English shores, until it disappeared altogether in a mist of rain—and tears.
It was in Manchester, whither he had gone to meet the famous John Molyneux, that George Brand awoke on this dull and drizzly morning. The hotel was almost full. He had been sent to the top floor; and now the outlook from the window was dismal enough—some slated roofs, a red chimney or two, and farther off the higher floors of a lofty warehouse, in which the first signs of life were becoming visible. Early as it was, there was a dull roar of traffic in the distance; occasionally there was the scream of a railway whistle.
Neither the morning nor the prospect was conducive to a cheerful view of life; and perhaps that was why, when he took in his boots and found in one of them a letter, deposited there by the chamber-maid, which he at once saw was in Ferdinand Lind's handwriting, that he instantly assumed, mentally, an attitude of defiance. He did not open the letter just then. He took time to let his opposition harden. He knew there would be something or somebody to fight. It was too much to expect that everything should go smoothly. If there was such a thing as a law of compensation, that beautiful dream-like evening at the opera—the light, the color, the softened music; the scent of white-rose; the dark, soft eyes, and the last pressure of the hand; the forget-me-nots he carried away with him—would have to be paid for somehow. And he had always distrusted Ferdinand Lind. His instinct assured him that this letter, which he had been looking for and yet dreading, contained a distinct refusal.
His instinct was completely at fault. The letter was exceedingly kind and suave. Mr. Lind might try to arouse his daughter from this idle day-dream by sharp words and an ominous threat; he knew that it was otherwise he must deal with Mr. George Brand.
* * * * *
"My dear Mr. Brand," he wrote, "as you may imagine, your letter has surprised me not a little, and pleased me too for a father naturally is proud to see his daughter thought well of; and your proposal is very flattering; especially, I may add, as you have seen so little of Natalie. You are very kind—and bold, and unlike English nature—to take her and family on trust as it were; for are not your countrymen very particular as to the relatives of those they would marry with? and of Natalie's relatives and friends how many have you seen? Excuse me if I do not quite explain myself; for writing in English is not as familiar to me as to Natalie, who is quite an Englishwoman now. Very well; I think it is kind of you to think so highly of my daughter as to offer her to make her your wife, you knowing so little of her. But there you do not mistake; she is worthy to be the wife of any one. If she ever marries, I hope she will be as good a wife as she has been a daughter."
"If she ever marries!" This phrase sounded somewhat ominous; and yet, if he meant to say "No," why not say it at once? Brand hastily glanced over the letter, to find something definite; but he found that would not do. He began again, and read with deliberation. The letter had obviously been written with care.
"I have also to thank you, besides, for the very flattering proposal, for your care to put this matter before me at an early time. Regarding how little Natalie and you have seen each other, it is impossible that either her or your affection can be so serious that it is not fair to look on your proposal with some views as to expediency; and at an early time one can easily control one's wishes. I can answer for my daughter that she has always acted as I thought best for her happiness; and I am sure that now, or at any time, in whatever emergency, she would far prefer to have the decision rest with me, rather than take the responsibility on herself."
When George Brand came to this passage he read it over again; and his comment was, "My good friend, don't be too sure of that. It is possible that you have lived nineteen years with your daughter to very little purpose, so far as your knowledge of her character is concerned."
"Well, then, my dear sir," the letter proceeded, "all this being in such a way, might I ask you to reflect again over your proposal, and examine it from the view of expediency? You and I are not free agents, just to please ourselves when we like. Perhaps I was wrong in my first objection to your very flattering proposal; I believed you might, in marrying her, withdraw from the work we are all engaged in; I feared this as a great calamity—an injury done to many to gratify the fancy of one. But Natalie, I will confess, scorned me for that doubt; and, indeed, was so foolish as to propose a little hoax, to prove to me that, even if she promised to marry you as a reward, she could not get you to abandon our cause. 'No, no,' she said; 'that is not to be feared. He is not one to go back.'"
When George Brand read these words his breath came and went a little quickly. She should not find her faith in him misplaced.
"That is very well, very satisfactory, I said to her. We cannot afford to lose you, whatever happens. To return; there are more questions of expediency. For example, how can one tell what may be demanded of one? Would it be wise for you to be hampered with a wife when you know not where you may have to go? Again, would not the cares of a household seriously interfere with your true devotion to your labors? You are so happily placed! You are free from responsibilities: why increase them? At present Natalie is in a natural and comfortable position; she has grown accustomed to it; she is proud to know that she can be of assistance to us; her life is not an unhappy one. But consider—a young wife, separated from her husband perhaps by the Atlantic: in a new home, with new duties; anxious, terrified with apprehensions: surely that is not the change you would wish to see?"
For a second Brand was almost frightened by this picture, and a pang of remorse flashed through his heart. But then his common-sense reasserted itself. Why the Atlantic? Why should they be separated? Why should she be terrified with apprehensions?
"As regards her future," her father continued, "I am not an old man; and if anything were to happen to me, she has friends. Nor will I say to you a word about myself, or my claim on her society and help; for parents have not the right to sacrifice the happiness of their children to their own convenience; it is so fortunate when they find, however, that there is no dispositions on the part of the young to break those ties that have been formed by the companionship of many years. It is this, my dear friend and colleague, that makes me thank you for having spoken so early; that I ask you to reconsider, and that I can advise my daughter, without the fear that I am acting in a tyrannical manner or thwarting any serious affection on her part. You will perceive I do not dictate. I ask you to think over whether it is wise for your own happiness—whether it would improve Natalie's probabilities of happiness—whether it would interfere in some measure with the work you have undertaken—if you continue to cherish this fancy, and let it grow on you. Surely it is better, for a man to have but one purpose in life. Nevertheless, I am open to conviction.
"That reminds me that there is another matter on which I should like to say a few words to you when there is the chance. If there is a break in the current of your present negotiations, shall you have time to run up to London? Only this: you will, I trust, not seek to see Natalie, or to write to her, until we have come to an understanding. Again I thank you for having spoken to me so early, before any mischief can have been done. Think over what I have said, my dear friend; and remember, above all things, where your chief duty lies.
"Yours sincerely, Ferdinand Lind."
* * * * *
He read this letter over two or three times, and the more he read it the more he was impressed with the vexatious conviction that it would be an uncommonly difficult thing to answer it. It was so reasonable, so sensible, so plausible. Then his old suspicions returned. Why was this man Lind so plausible? If he objected, why did he not say so outright? All these specious arguments: how was one to turn and twist, evading some, meeting others; and all the time taking it for granted that the happiness of two people's lives was to be dependent on such logic-chopping as could be put down on a sheet of paper?
Then he grew impatient. He would not answer the letter at all. Lind did not understand. The matter had got far ahead of this clever argumentation; he would appeal to Natalie herself; it was her "Yes" or "No" that would be final; not any contest and balancing of words. There were others he could recall, of more importance to him. He could almost hear them now in the trembling, low voice: "I will be your wife, or the wife of no one. Dear friend, I can say no more." And again, when she gave him the forget-me-nots, "Whatever happens, you will remember that there was one who at least wished to be worthy of your love." He could remember the proud, brave look; again he felt the trembling of the hand that timidly sought his for an instant; he could almost scent the white-rose again, and hear the murmur of the people in the corridor. And this was the woman, into whose eyes he had looked as if they were the eyes of his wife, who was to be taken away from him by means of a couple of sheets of note-paper all covered over with little specious suggestions.
He thrust the letter into a pocket, and hurriedly proceeded with his dressing, for he had a breakfast appointment. Indeed, before he was ready, the porter came up and said that a gentleman had called for him, and was waiting for him in the coffee-room.
"Ask him what he will have for breakfast, and let him go on. I shall be down presently."
When Brand did at length go down, he found that his visitor had frankly accepted this permission, and had before him a large plate of corned-beef, with a goodly tankard of beer. Mr. John Molyneux, although he was a great authority among English workmen generally, and especially among the trades-unionists of the North, had little about him of the appearance of the sleek-haired demagogue as that person is usually represented to us. He was a stout, yeoman-looking man, with a frosty-red face and short silver-white whiskers; he had keen, shrewd blue eyes, and a hand that gave a firm grip. The fact is, that Molyneux had in early life been a farmer, and a well-to-do-farmer. But he had got smitten with the writings of Cobbett, and he began to write too. Then he took to lecturing—on the land laws, on Robert Owenism, on the Church of England, but more especially on co-operation. Finding, however, that all this pamphleteering and lecturing was playing ducks and drakes with his farming, and being in many respects a shrewd and sensible person, he resolved on selling out of his farm and investing the proceeds in the government stock of America, the country of his deepest admiration. In the end he found that he had about one hundred and fifty pounds a year, on which he could live very comfortably, while giving up all his time and attention to his energetic propagandism. This was the person who now gave Brand a hearty greeting, and then took a long draught at the tankard of ale.
"You see, Mr. Brand," said he, looking cautiously around, and then giving a sly wink. "I thought we might have a chat by ourselves in this corner."
Brand nodded; there was no one near them.
"Now I have been considering about what you told me; and last night I called on Professor ——, of Owens College, ye know, and I had some further talk with him. Well, sir, it's a grand scheme—splendid; and I don't wonder you've made such progress as I hear of. And when all the lads are going in for it, what would they say if old John Molyneux kept out, eh?"
"Why, they would say he had lost some of his old pluck; that's about what they would say, isn't it?" said Brand; though the fact was that he was thinking a good deal more about the letter in his pocket.
"There was one point, though, Mr. Brand, that I did not put before either Professor —— or yourself, and it is important. The point is, dibs."
"I beg your pardon," said Brand, absently; he was, in truth, recalling the various phrases and sentences in that letter of Ferdinand Lind.
"Dibs, sir—dibs," said the farmer-agitator, energetically. "You know what makes the mare go. And you know these are not the best of times; and some of the lads will be thinking they pay enough into their own Union. That's what I want to know, Mr. Brand, before I can advise any one. You need money; how do you get it? What's the damage on joining, and after?"
Brand pulled himself together.
"Oh, money?" said he. "That need not trouble you. We exact nothing. How could we ask people to buy a pig in a poke? There's not a working-man in the country but would put us down as having invented an ingenious scheme for living on other people's earnings. It is not money we want; it is men."
"Yes, yes," said Molyneux, looking rather puzzled. "But when you've got the machine, you want oil, eh? The basis of everything, sir, is dibs: what can ye do without it?"
"We want money, certainly," Brand said. "But we do not touch a farthing that is not volunteered. There are no compulsory subscriptions. We take it that the more a man sees of what we are doing, and of what has to be done, the more he will be willing to give according to his means; and so far there has been no disappointment."
"H'm!" said Molyneux, doubtfully. "I reckon you won't get much from our chaps."
"You don't know. It is wonderful what a touch of enthusiasm will do—and emulation between the local centers. Besides, we are always having accessions of richer folk, and these are expected to make up all deficiencies."
"Ah!" said the other. "I see more daylight that way. Now you, Mr. Brand, must have been a good fat prize for them, eh?"
The shrewd inquiring glance that accompanied this remark set George Brand laughing.
"I see, Mr. Molyneux, you want to get at the 'dibs' of everything. Well, I can't enlighten you any further until you join us: you have not said whether you will or not."
"I will!" said the other, bringing his fist down on the table, though he still spoke in a loud whisper. "I'm your man! In for a penny, in for a pound!"
"I beg your pardon," said Brand, politely, "but you are in for neither, unless you like. You may be in for a good deal of work, though. You must bring us men, and you will be let off both the penny and the pound. Now, could you run up with me to London to-night, and be admitted to-morrow, and get to know something of what we are doing?"
"Is it necessary?"
"In your case, yes. We want to make you a person of importance."
So at last Molyneux agreed, and they started for London in the evening; the big, shrew, farmer-looking man being as pleased as a child to have certain signs and passwords confided to him. Brand made light of these things—and, in fact, they were only such as were used among the outsiders; but Molyneux was keenly interested, and already pictured himself going through Europe and holding this subtle conversation with all the unknown companions whom chance might throw in his way.
But long ere he reached London the motion of the train had sent him to sleep; and George Brand had plenty of time to think over that letter, and to guess at what possible intention might lie under its plausible phrases. He had leisure to think of other things, too. The question of money, for example—about which Molyneux had been so curious with regard to this association—was one on which he himself was but slightly informed, the treasury department being altogether outside his sphere. He did not even know whether Lind had private means, or was enabled to live as he did by the association, for its own ends. He knew that the Society had numerous paid agents; no doubt, he himself could have claimed a salary, had it been worth his while. But the truth is that "dibs" concerned him very little. He had never been extravagant; he had always lived well within his income; and his chief satisfaction in being possessed of a liberal fortune lay in the fact that he had not to bother his head about money. There was one worry the less in life.
But then George Brand had been a good deal about the world, and had seen something of human life, and knew very well the power the possession of money gives. Why, this very indifference, this happy carelessness about pecuniary details, was but the consequence of his having a large fund in the background that he could draw on at will. If he did not overvalue his fortune, on the other hand he did not undervalue it; and he was about the last man in the world who could reasonably have been expected to part with it.
Natalie Lind was busy writing at the window of the drawing-room in Curzon Street when Calabressa entered, unannounced. He had outstripped the little Anneli; perhaps he was afraid of being refused. He was much excited.
"Forgive me, signorina, if I startle you," he said, rapidly, in his native tongue; "forgive me, little daughter. We go away to-night, I and the man Kirski, whom you saved from madness: we are ordered away; it is possible I may never see you again. Now listen."
He took a seat beside her; in his hurry and eagerness he had for the moment abandoned his airy manner.
"When I came here I expected to see you a school-girl—some one in safe-keeping—with no troubles to think of. You are a woman; you may have trouble; and it is I, Calabressa, who would then cut off my right hand to help you. I said I would leave you my address; I cannot. I dare not tell any one even where I am going. What of that? Look well at this card."
He placed before her a small bit of pasteboard, with some lines marked on it.
"Now we will imagine that some day you are in great trouble; you know not what to do; and you suddenly, bethink yourself, 'Now it is Calabressa, and the friends of Calabressa, who must help me—'"
"Pardon me, signore," said Natalie, gently. "To whom should I go but to my father, if I were in trouble? And why should one anticipate trouble? If it were to come, perhaps one might be able to brave it."
"My little daughter, you vex me. You must listen. If no trouble comes, well! If it does, are you any the worse for knowing that there are many on whom you can rely? Very well; look! This is the Via Roma in Naples."
"I know it," said Natalie: why should she not humor the good-natured old albino, who had been a friend of her mother's?
"You go along it until you come to this little lane; it is the Vico Carlo; you ascend the lane—here is the first turning—you go round, and behold! the entrance to a court. The court is dark, but there is a lamp burning all day; go farther in, there are wine-vaults. You enter the wine-vaults, and say, 'Bartolotti.' You do not say, 'Is Signor Bartolotti at home?' or, 'Can I see the illustrious Signor Bartolotti,' but 'Bartolotti,' clear and short. You understand?"
"You give yourself too much trouble, signore."
"I hope so, little daughter. I hope you will never have to search for these wine-vaults; but who knows? Alors, one comes to you, and says, 'What is your pleasure, signorina?' Then you ask, 'Where is Calabressa?' The answer to that? It may be, 'We do not know;' or it may be, 'Calabressa is in prison again,' or it may be,'Calabressa is dead.' Never mind. When Calabressa dies, no one will care less than Calabressa himself."
"Some one would care, signore; you have a mother."
He took her hand.
"And a daughter, too," he said, lightly; "if the wicked little minx would only listen. Then you know what you must say to the man whom you will see at the wine-vaults; you must say this, 'Brother, I come with a message from Calabressa; it is the daughter of Natalie Berezolyi who demands your help.' Then do you know what will happen? From the next morning you will be under the protection of the greatest power in Europe; a power unknown but invincible; a power that no one dares to disobey. Ah, little one, you will find out what the friends of Calabressa can do for you when you appeal to them!"
He smiled proudly.
"Allons! Put this card away in a secret place. Do not show it to any one; let no one know the name I confided to you. Can you remember it, little daughter?"
"Good! Now that is one point settled; here is the next. You do not seem to have any portrait of your mother, my little one?"
"Ah, no!" she exclaimed, quickly; for she was more interested now. "I suppose my father could not bear to be reminded of his loss: if there is any portrait, I have not seen it; and how could I ask him?"
He regarded her for a moment, and then he spoke more slowly than hitherto:
"Little Natalushka, I told you I am going away; and who knows what may happen to me? I have no money or land to leave to any one; if I had a wife and children, the only name I could leave them would be the name of a jailbird. If I were to leave a will behind me, it would read, 'My heart to my beloved Italia; my curse to Austria; and my—'Ah, yes, after all I have something to leave to the little Natalushka."
He put his hand, which trembled somewhat, into the breast of his coat, and brought out a small leather case.
"I am about to give you my greatest treasure, little one; my only treasure. I think you will value it."
He opened the case and handed it to her; inside there was a miniature, painted on ivory; it might have been a portrait of Natalie herself. For some time the girl did not say a word, but her eyes slowly filled with tears.
"She was very beautiful signore," she murmured.
"Ah little daughter," he said, cheerfully, "I am glad to see the portrait in safe-keeping at last. Many a risk I have run with it; many a time I have had to hide it. And you must hide it too; let no one see it but yourself. But now you will give me one of your own in exchange, my little one; and so the bargain is complete."
She went to the small table adjoining to hunt among the photographs.
"And lastly, one more point, Signorina Natalushka," said Calabressa, with the air of one who had got through some difficult work. "You asked me once to find out for you who was the lady from whom you received the little silver locket. Well, you see, that is now out of my power. I am going away. If you are still curious, you must ask some one else; but is it not natural to suppose that the locket may have been stolen a great many years ago, and at last the thief resolves to restore it? No matter; it is only a locket."
She returned with a few photographs for him to chose from. He picked out two.
"There is one for me; there is one for my old mother. I will say to her, 'Do you remember the young Hungarian lady who came to see you at Spezia? Put on your spectacles now, and see whether that is not the same young lady. Ah, good old mother; can you see no better than that?—that is not Natalie Berezolyi at all; that is her daughter, who lives in England. But she has not got the English way; she is not content when she herself is comfortable; she thinks of others; she has an ear for voices afar off.' That is what I shall say to the old mother."
He put the photographs in his pocket.
"In the mean time, my little daughter," said he, "now that our pressing business is over, one may speak at leisure: and what of you, now? My sight is not very good; but even my eyes can see that you are not looking cheerful enough. You are troubled, Natalushka, or you would not have forgotten to thank me for giving you the only treasure I have in the world."