The girl's pale face flushed, and she said, quickly,
"There are some things that are not to be expressed in words, Signor Calabressa. I cannot tell you what I think of your kindness to me."
"Silence! do you not understand my joking? Eh, bien; let us understand each other. Your father has spoken to me—a little, not much. He would rather have an end to the love affair, n'est ce pas?"
"There are some other things that are not to be spoken of," the girl said, in a low voice, but somewhat proudly.
"Natalushka, I will not have you answer me like that. It is not right. If you knew all my history, perhaps you would understand why I ask you questions—why I interfere—why you think me impertinent—"
"Oh no, signore; how can I think that?"
She had her mother's portrait in her hand; she was gazing into the face that was so strangely like her own.
"Then why not answer me?"
She looked up with a quick, almost despairing look.
"Because I try not to think about it," she said, hurriedly. "Because I try to think only of my work. And now, Signor Calabressa, you have given me something else to think about; something to be my companion when I am alone; and from my heart I thank you."
"But you speak as if you were in great grief, my little one. It is not all over between you and your lover?"
"How can I tell? What can I say?" she exclaimed; and for a moment her eyes looked up with the appealing look of a child. "He does not write to me. I may not write to him. I must not see him."
"But then there may be reasons for delay and consideration, little Natalushka; your father may have reasons. And your father did not speak to me as if it were altogether impossible. What he said was, in effect, 'We will see—we will see.' However, let us return to the important point: it is my advice to you—you cannot have forgotten it—that whatever happens, whatever you may think, do not, little one, seek to go against your father's wishes. You will promise me that?"
"I have not forgotten, signore; but do you not remember my answer? I am no longer a child. If I am to obey, I must have reasons for obeying."
"What?" said he smiling. "And you know that one of our chief principles is that obedience is a virtue in itself?"
"I do not belong to your association, Signor Calabressa."
"The little rebel!"
"No, no, signore; do not drive me into a false position. I cannot understand my father, who has always been so kind to me; it is better not to speak of it: some day, when you come back, Signore Calabressa, you will find it all a forgotten story. Some people forget so readily; do they not?"
The trace of pathetic bitterness in her speech did not escape him.
"My child," said he, "you are suffering; I perceive it. But it may soon be over, and your joy will be all the greater. If not, if the future has trouble for you, remember what I have told you. Allons donc! Keep up a brave heart; but I need not say that to the child of the Berezolyis."
He rose, and at the same moment a bell was heard below.
"You are not going, Signore Calabressa? That must be my father."
"Your father!" he exclaimed; and he seemed confused. Then he added, quickly, "Ah, very well. I will see him as I go down. Our business, little one, is finished; is it not? Now repeat to me the name I mentioned to you."
"Excellent, excellent! And you will keep the portrait from every one's eyes but your own. Now, farewell!"
He took her two hands in his.
"My beautiful child," said he, in rather a trembling voice, "may Heaven keep you as true and brave as your mother was, and send you more happiness. I may not see England again—no, it is not likely; but in after-years you may sometimes think of old Calabressa, and remember that he loved you almost as he once loved another of your name."
Surely she must have understood. He hurriedly kissed her on the forehead, and said, "Adieu, little daughter!" and left. And when he had gone she sunk into the chair again, and clasped both her hands round her mother's portrait and burst into tears.
Calabressa made his way down-stairs, and, at the foot, ran against Ferdinand Lind.
"Ah, amico mio," said he, in his gay manner. "See now, we have been bidding our adieux to the little Natalushka—the rogue, to pretend to me she had no sweetheart! Shall we have a glass of wine, mon capitaine, before we imbark?"
"Yes, yes," said Lind, though without any great cordiality. "Come into my little room."
He led him into the small study, and presently there was wine upon the table. Calabressa was exceedingly vivacious, and a little difficult to follow, especially in his French. But Lind allowed him to rattle on, until by accident he referred to some meeting that was shortly to take place at Posilipo.
"Well, now, Calabressa," said Lind, with apparent carelessness, as he broke off a bit of biscuit and poured out a glass of wine for himself, "I suppose you know more about the opinions of the Council now than any one not absolutely within itself."
"I am a humble servant only, friend Lind," he remarked, as he thrust his fingers into the breast of his military-looking coat—"a humble servant of my most noble masters. But sometimes one hears—one guesses—mais a quel propos cette question, monsieur mon camarade?"
Lind regarded him; and said, slowly,
"You know, Calabressa, that some seventeen years ago I was on the point of being elected a member of the Council."
"I know it," said the other, with a little embarrassment.
"You know why—though you do not know the right or the wrong of it—all that became impossible."
Calabressa nodded. It was delicate ground, and he was afraid to speak.
"Well," said Lind, "I ask you boldly—do you not think I have done enough in these sixteen or seventeen years to reinstate myself? Who else has done a tithe of the work I have done?"
"Friend Lind, I think that is well understood at head-quarters."
"Very well, then, Calabressa, what do you think? Consider what I have done; consider what I have now to do—what I may yet do. There is this Zaccatelli business. I do not approve of it myself. I think it is a mistake, as far as England is concerned. The English will not hear of assassination, even though it is such a criminal as the cardinale affamatore who is to be punished. But though I do not approve, I obey. Some one from the English section will fulfil that duty: it is something to be considered. Then money; think of the money I have contributed. Without English money what would have been done? when there is any new levy wanted, it is to England—to me—they apply first; and at the present moment their cry for money is more urgent than ever. Very well, then, my Calabressa; what do you think of all this?"
Calabressa seemed somewhat embarrassed.
"Friend Lind, I am not so far into their secrets as that. Being in prison so long, one loses terms of familiarity with many of one's old associates, you perceive. But your claims are undoubted, my friend; yes, yes, undoubted."
"But what do you think, Calabressa?" he said; and that affectation of carelessness had now gone: there was an eager look in the deep-set eyes under the bushy eyebrows. "What do you yourself think of my chance? It ought to be no chance; it ought to be a certainty. It is my due. I claim it as the reward of my sixteen years' work, to say nothing of what went before."
"Ah, naturellement, sans doute, tu as raison, mon camarade," said the politic Calabressa, endeavoring to get out of the difficulty with a shrug of his shoulders. "But—but—the more one knows of the Council the more one fears prying into its secrets. No, no; I do what I am told; for the rest my ears are closed."
"If I were on the Council, Calabressa," said Lind, slowly, "you would be treated with more consideration. You have earned as much."
"A thousand thanks, friend Lind," said the other; "but I have no more ambitions now. The time for that is past. Let them make what they can out of old Calabressa—a stick to beat a dog with; as long as I have my liberty and a cigarette, I am content."
"Ah, well," said Lind, resuming his careless air, "you must not imagine I am seriously troubled because the Council have not as yet seen fit to think of what I have done for them. I am their obedient servant, like yourself. Some day, perhaps, I may be summoned."
"A la bonne heure!" said Calabressa, rising. "No, no more wine. Your port-wine here is glorious—it is a wine for the gods; but a very little is enough for a man. So, farewell, my good friend Lind. Be kind to the beautiful Natalushka, if that other thing that I spoke of is impossible. If the bounty of Heaven had only given me such a daughter!"
"Kirski will meet you at the station," said Lind. "Charing Cross, you remember; eight sharp. The train is 8.25."
"I will be there."
They shook hands and parted; the door was shut. Then, in the street outside, Calabressa glanced up at the drawing-room windows just for a second.
"Ah, little daughter," he said to himself as he turned away, "you do not know the power of the talisman I have given you. But you will not use it. You will be happy; you will marry the Englishman; you will have little children round your knee; and you will lead so busy and glad a life, year after year, that you will never have a minute to sit down and think of old Calabressa, or of the stupid little map of Naples he left with you."
Once again the same great city held these two. When George Brand looked out in the morning on the broad river, and the bridges, and the hurrying cabs and trains and steamers, he knew that this flood of dusky sunshine was falling also on the quieter ways of Hyde Park and semi-silent thoroughfares adjoining. They were in the same city, but they were far apart. An invisible barrier separated them. It was not to Curzon Street that he directed his steps when he went out into the still, close air and the misty sunlight.
It was to Lisle Street that he walked; and all the way he was persuading himself to follow Calabressa's advice. He would betray no impatience, however specious Lind might be. He would shut down that distrust of Natalie's father that was continually springing up in his mind. He would be considerate to the difficulties of his position, ready to admit the reasonableness of his arguments, mindful of the higher duties demanded of himself. But then—but then—he bethought him of that evening at the theatre; he remembered what she had said; how she had looked. He was not going to give up his beautiful, proud-natured sweetheart as a mere matter of expediency, as the conclusion of a clever bit of argument.
When he entered Mr. Lind's room he found Heinrich Reitzei its sole occupant. Lind had not yet arrived: the pallid-faced young man with the pince-nez was in possession of his chair. And no sooner had George Brand made his appearance than Reitzei rose, and, with a significant smile, motioned the new-comer to take the vacant seat he had just quitted.
"What do you mean?" Brand said, naturally taking another chair, which was much nearer him.
"Will you not soon be occupying this seat en permanence?" Reitzei said, with affected nonchalance.
"Lind has abdicated, then, I presume," said Brand, coldly: this young man's manner had never been very grateful to him.
Reitzei sunk into the seat again, and twirled at his little black waxed mustache.
"Abdicated? No; not yet," he said with an air of indifference. "But if one were to be translated to a higher sphere?—there is a vacancy in the Council."
"Then he would have to live abroad," said Brand, quickly.
The younger man did not fail to observe his eagerness, and no doubt attributed it to a wrong cause. It was no sudden hope of succeeding to Lind's position that prompted the exclamation; it was the possibility of Natalie being carried away from England.
"He would have to live in the place called nowhere," said Reitzei, with a calm smile. "He would have to live in the dark—in the middle of the night—everywhere and nowhere at the same moment."
Brand was on the point of asking what would then become of Natalie, but he forbore. He changed the subject altogether.
"How is that mad Russian fellow getting on—Kirski? Still working?"
"Yes; at another kind of work. Calabressa has undertaken to turn his vehemence into a proper channel—to let off the steam, as it were, in another direction."
"Kirski has become the humble disciple of Calabressa, and has gone to Genoa with him."
"What folly is this!" Brand said. "Have you admitted that maniac?"
"Certainly; such force was not to be wasted."
"A pretty disciple! How much Russian does Calabressa know?"
"Gathorne Edwards is with them; it is some special business. Both Calabressa and Kirski will be capital linguists before it is over."
"But how has Edwards got leave again from the British Museum?"
Reitzei shrugged his shoulders.
"I believe Lind wants to buy him over altogether. We could pay him more than the British Museum."
At this moment there was a sound outside of some one ascending the stair, and directly afterward Mr. Lind entered the room. As he came in Reitzei left.
"How do you do, Mr. Brand?" Lind said, shaking his visitor's hand with great warmth. "Very glad to see you looking so well; hard work does not hurt you, clearly. I hope I have not incommoded you in asking you to run up to London?"
"Not at all," Brand said. "Molyneux came up with me last night."
"Ah! You have gained him over?"
"Again I congratulate you. Well, now, since we have begun upon business, let us continue upon business."
He settled himself in his chair, as if for some serious talk. Brand could not help being struck by the brisk, vivacious, energetic look of this man; and on this morning he was even more than usually smartly dressed. Was it his daughter who had put that flower in his button-hole?
"I will speak frankly to you, and as clear as I can in my poor English. You must let me say, without flattery, that we are all very indebted to you—very proud of you; we are glad to have you with us. And now that you see farther and farther about our work, I trust you are not disappointed. You understand at the outset you must take so much on trust."
"I am not in the least disappointed; quite the reverse," Brand said; and he remembered Calabressa, and spoke in as friendly a way as possible. "Indeed, many a time I am sorry one cannot explain more fully to those who are only inquiring. If they could only see at once all that is going on, they would have no more doubt. And it is slow work with some of them."
"Yes, certainly; no doubt. Well, to return, if you please: it is a satisfaction you are not disappointed; that you believe we are doing a good work; that you go with us. Very well. You have advanced grade by grade; you see nothing to repent of; why not take the final step?"
"I don't quite understand you," he said, doubtfully.
"I will explain. You have given yourself to us—your time, your labor, your future; but the final step of self-sacrifice—is it so very difficult? In many cases it is merely a challenge: we say, 'Show that you can trust us even for your very livelihood. Become absolutely dependent on us, even for your food, your drink, your clothes.' In your case, I admit, it is something more: it is an invitation to a very considerable self-sacrifice. All the more proof that you are not afraid."
"I do not think I am afraid," said Brand, slowly; "but—"
"One moment. The affair is simple. The officers of our society—those who govern—those from whom are chosen the members of the Council—that Council that is more powerful than any government in Europe—those officers, I say, are required first of all to surrender every farthing of personal property, so that they shall become absolutely dependent on the Society itself—"
Brand looked a trifle bewildered: more than that, resentful and indignant, as if his common-sense had received a shock.
"It is a necessary condition," Lind continued, without eagerness—rather as if he were merely enunciating a theory. "It insures absolute equality; it is a proof of faith. And you may perceive that, as I am alive, they do not allow one to starve."
The slight smile that accompanied this remark was meant to be reassuring. Certainly, Mr. Lind did not starve; if the society of which he was a member enabled him to live as he did in Curzon Street, he had little to complain of.
"You mean," said George Brand, "that before I enter this highest grade, next to the Council, I must absolutely surrender my entire fortune to you?"
"To the common fund of the Society—yes," was the reply; uttered as a matter of course.
"But there is no compulsion?"
"Certainly not. On this point every one is free. You may remain in your present grade if you please."
"Then I confess to you I don't see why I should change," Brand said, frankly. "Cannot I work as well for you just as I am?"
"Perhaps; perhaps not," said the other, easily. "But you perceive, further, that the fact of our not exacting subscriptions from the poorer members of our association makes it all the more necessary that we should have voluntary gifts from the richer. And as regards a surplus of wealth, of what use is that to any one? Am I not granted as much money as one need reasonably want? And just now there is more than ever a need of money for the general purposes of the Society: Lord Evelyn gave us a thousand pounds last week."
Brand flushed red.
"I wish you had told me," he said; "I would rather have given you five thousand. You know he cannot afford it."
"The greater the merit of the sacrifice," said his companion calmly.
This proposal was so audacious that George Brand was still a little bewildered; but the fact was that, while listening very respectfully to Mr. Lind, he had been thinking more about Natalie; and it was the most natural thing in the world that some thought of her should now intervene.
"Another thing, Mr. Lind," said he, though he was rather embarrassed. "Even if I were to make such a sacrifice, as far as I am concerned; if I were to run the risk for myself alone, that might all be very well; but supposing I were to marry, do you think I should like my wife to run such a risk—do you think I should be justified in allowing her? And surely you ought not to ask me. It is your own daughter—"
"Excuse me, Mr. Brand," said the other, blandly but firmly. "We will restrict ourselves to business at the present moment, if you will be so kind. I wrote to you all that occurred to me when I had to consider your very flattering proposal with regard to my daughter; I may now add that, if any thought of her interfered with your decision in this matter, I should still further regret that you had ever met."
"You do not take the view a father would naturally take about the future of his own daughter," said Brand, bluntly.
Lind was not in the least moved by this taunt.
"I should allow neither the interests of my daughter nor my own interests to interfere with my sense of duty," said he. "Do you know me so little? Do you know her so little? Ah, then you have much to learn of her!"
Lind looked at him for a second or two, and added, with a slight smile,
"If you decide to say no, be sure I will not say a word of it to her. No; I will still leave the child her hero in her imagination. For when I said to her, 'Natalie, an Englishman will do a good deal for the good of the people—he will give you his sympathy, his advice, his time, his labor—but he will not put his hand in his pocket;' then she said, 'Ah, but you do not understand Mr. Brand yet, papa; he is with us; he is not one to go back.'"
"But this abandonment of one's property is so disproportionate in different cases—"
"The greater the sacrifice, the greater the merit," returned the other: then he immediately added, "But do not imagine I am seeking to persuade you. I place before you the condition on which you may go forward and attain the highest rank, ultimately perhaps the greatest power, in this organization. Ah, you do not understand what that is as yet. If you knew, you would not hesitate very long, I think."
"But—but suppose I have no great ambition," Brand remonstrated. "Suppose I am quite content to go on doing what I can in my present sphere?"
"You have already sworn to do your utmost in every direction. On this one point of money, however, the various Councils have never departed from the principle that there must be no compulsion. On any other point the Council orders; you obey. On this point the voluntary sacrifice has, as I say, all the more merit; and it is not forgotten. For what are you doing? You are yielding up a superabundance that you cannot use, so that thousands and thousands of the poor throughout the world may not be called on to contribute their pence. You are giving the final proof of your devotion. You are taking the vow of poverty and dependence, which many of the noblest brotherhoods the world has seen have exacted from their members at the very outset; but in your case with the difference that you can absolutely trust to the resources of an immense association—"
"Yes, as far as I am concerned," Brand said, quickly. "But I ask you whether I should be justified in throwing away this power to protect others. May I appeal to Natalie herself? May I ask her?"
"I am afraid, Mr. Brand," said the other, with the same mild firmness, "I must request you in the meantime to leave Natalie out of consideration altogether. This is a question of duty, of principle; it must regulate our future relations with each other; pray let it stand by itself."
Brand sat silent for a time. There were many things to think over. He recalled, for example, though vaguely, a conversation he had once had with Lord Evelyn, in which this very question of money was discussed, and in which he had said that he would above all things make sure he was not being duped. Moreover, he had intended that his property, in the event of his dying unmarried, should go to his nephews. But it was not his sister's boys who were now uppermost in his mind.
"You cannot expect me to give you a definite answer at once," he said, almost absently.
"No; before you go, let me add this," said the other, regarding his companion with a watchful look: "the Council are not only in urgent need of liberal funds just now, but also, in several directions, of diligent and exceptional service. The money contribution which they demand from England I shall be able to meet somehow, no doubt; hitherto I have not failed them. The claim for service shall not find us wanting, either, I hope; and it has been represented to me that perhaps you ought to be transferred to Philadelphia, where there is much to be done at the present moment."
This suggestion effectually awoke Brand from his day-dream.
"Philadelphia!" he exclaimed.
"Yes," said the other, speaking very slowly, as if anxious that every word should have weight. "My visit, short as it was, enabled me to see how well one might employ one's whole lifetime there—with such results as would astonish our good friends at head-quarters, I am sure of that. True, the parting from one's country might be a little painful at first; but that is not the greatest of the sacrifices that one should be prepared to submit to. However," he added, rather more lightly, "this is still to be decided on; meanwhile I hope, and I am sure you hope too, Mr. Brand, that I shall be able to satisfy the Council that the English section does not draw back when called on for its services."
"No doubt—no doubt," Brand said; but the pointed way in which his companion had spoken did not escape him, and promised to afford him still further food for reflection.
But if this was a threat, he would show no fear.
"Molyneux wishes to get back North as soon as possible," he said, in a matter-of-fact way, just as if talking of commonplace affairs the whole time. "I suppose his initiation could take place to-morrow night?"
"Certainly," said Mr. Lind, following his visitor to the door. "And you must certainly allow me to thank you once more, my dear Mr. Brand, for your service in securing to us such an ally. I should like to have talked with you about your experiences in the North; but you agree with me that the suggestion I have made demands your serious consideration first—is it not so?"
"I will let you know to-morrow," said he. "Good-morning!"
"Good-morning!" said Mr. Lind, pleasantly; and then the door was shut.
He was attended down-stairs by the stout old German, who, on reaching the front-door, drew forth a letter from his pocket and handed it to him with much pretence of mystery. He was thinking of other things, to tell the truth; and as he walked along he regarded the outside of the envelope with but little curiosity. It was addressed, "All' Egregio Sigmore, Il Signor G. Brand."
"No doubt a begging letter from some Leicester Square fellow," he thought.
Presently, however, he opened the letter, and read the following message, which was also in Italian:
"The beautiful caged little bird sighs and weeps, because she thinks she is forgotten. A word of remembrance would be kind, if her friend is discreet and secret. Above all, no open strife. This from one who departs. Farewell!"
A FRIEND'S ADVICE.
This must be said for George Brand, that while he was hard and unsympathetic in the presence of those whom he disliked or distrusted, in the society of those whom he did like and did trust he was docile and acquiescent as a child, easily led and easily persuaded. When he went from Lind's chamber, which had been to him full of an atmosphere of impatience and antagonism, to Lord Evelyn's study, and found his friend sitting reading there, his whole attitude changed; and his first duty was to utter a series of remonstrances about the thousand pounds.
"You can't afford it, Evelyn. Why didn't you come to me? I would have given it to you a dozen times over rather than you should have paid it."
"No doubt you would," said the pale lad. "That is why I did not come to you."
"I wish you could get it back."
"I would not take it back. It is little enough I can do; why not let me give such help as I can? If only those girls would begin to marry off, I might do more. But there is such a band of them that men are afraid to come near them."
"I think it would be a pity to spoil the group," said Brand. "The country should subscribe to keep them as they are—the perfect picture of an English family. However, to return: you must promise me not to commit any of these extravagances again. If any appeal is made to you, come to me."
But here a thought seemed to strike him;
"Ah," he said, "I have something to tell you. Lind is trying to get me to enter the same grade of officership with himself. And do you know what the first qualification is?—that you give up every penny you possess in the world."
The two friends stared at each other—the one calmly inquisitive, the other astounded.
"I thought you would have burst out laughing!" Brand exclaimed.
"Why?" said the other. "You have already done more for them—for us—than that: why should you not do all in your power? Why should you not do all that you can, and while you can? Look!"
They were standing at the window. On the other side of the street far below them were some funeral carriages; at this precise moment the coffin was being carried across the pavement.
"That is the end of it. I say, why shouldn't you do all that you can, and while you can?"
"Do you want reasons? Well, one has occurred to me since I came into this room. A minute ago I said to you that you must not repeat that extravagance; and I said if you were appealed to again you could come to me. But what if I had already surrendered every penny in the world? I wish to retain in my own hands at least the power to help my friends."
"That is only another form of selfishness," said Lord Evelyn, laughing. "I fear you are as yet of weak faith, Brand."
He turned from the light, and went and sunk into the shadow of a great arm-chair.
"Now I know what you are going to do, Evelyn," said his friend. "You are going to talk me out of my common-sense; and I will not have it. I want to show you why it is impossible I should agree to this demand."
"If you feel it to be impossible, it is impossible."
"My dear fellow, is it reasonable?"
"I dislike things that are reasonable."
"There is but one way of getting at you. Have you thought of Natalie?"
"Ah!" said the other, quickly raising himself into an expectant attitude.
"You will listen now, I suppose, to reason, to common-sense. Do you think it likely that, with the possibility of her becoming my wife, I am going to throw away this certainty and leave her to all chances of the world? Lind says that the Society amply provides for its officers. Very well; that is quite probable. I tell him that I am not afraid for myself; if I had to think of myself alone, there is no saying what I might not do, even if I were to laugh at myself for doing it. But how about Natalie? Lind might die. I might be sent away to the ends of the earth. Do you think I am going to leave her at the mercy of a lot of people whom she never saw?"
Lord Evelyn was silent.
"Besides, there is more than that," his friend continued, warmly. "You may call it selfishness, if you like, but if you love a woman and she gives her life into your hands—well, she has the first claim on you. I will put it to you: do you think I am going to sell the Beeches—when—when she might live there?"
Lord Evelyn did not answer.
"Of course I am willing to subscribe largely," his friend continued; "and Natalie herself would say yes to that. But I am not ambitious. I don't want to enter that grade. I don't want to sit in Lind's chair when he gets elected to the Council, as has been suggested to me. I am not qualified for it; I don't care about it; I can best do my own work in my own way."
At last Lord Evelyn spoke; but it was in a meditative fashion, and not very much to the point. He lay back in his easy-chair, his hands clasped behind his head, and talked; and his talk was not at all about the selling of Hill Beeches in Buckinghamshire, but of much more abstract matters. He spoke of the divine wrath of the reformer—what a curious thing it was, that fiery impatience with what was wrong in the world; how it cropped up here and there from time to time; and how one abuse after another had been burnt up by it and swept away forever. Give the man possessed of this holy rage all the beauty and wealth and ease in the world, and he is not satisfied; there is something within him that vibrates to the call of humanity without; others can pass by what does not affect themselves with a laugh or a shrug of indifference; he only must stay and labor till the wrong thing is put right. And how often had he been jeered at by the vulgar of his time; how Common-Sense had pointed the finger of scorn at him; how Respectability had called him crazed! John Brown at Harper's Ferry is only a ridiculous old fool; his effort is absurd; even gentlemen in the North feel an "intellectual satisfaction" that he is hanged, because of his "preposterous miscalculation of possibilities." Yes, no doubt; you hang him, and there is an end; but "his soul goes marching on," and the slaves are freed! You want to abolish the Corn-laws?—all good society shrieks at you at first: you are a Radical, a regicide, a Judas Iscariot; but in time the nation listens, and the poor have cheap bread. "Mazzini is mad!" the world cries: "why this useless bloodshed? It is only political murder." Mazzini is mad, no doubt: but in time the beautiful dream of Italy—of "Italia, the world's wonder, the world's care"—comes true. And what matter to the reformer, the agitator, the dreamer, though you stone him to death, or throw him to the lions, or clap him into a nineteenth-century prison and shut his mouth that way? He has handed on the sacred fire. Others will bear the torch; and he who is unencumbered will outstrip his fellows. The wrong must be put right.
And so forth, and so forth. Brand sat and listened, recognizing here and there a proud, pathetic phrase of Natalie's, and knowing well whence the inspiration came; and as he listened he almost felt as though that beautiful old place in Buckinghamshire was slipping through his fingers. The sacrifice seemed to be becoming less and less of a sacrifice; it took more and more the form of a duty; would Natalie's eyes smile approval?
Brand jumped up, and took a rapid turn or two up and down the room.
"I won't listen to you, Evelyn. You don't know anything about money-matters. You care for nothing but ideas. Now, I come of a commercial stock, and I want to know what guarantee I have that this money, if I were to give it up, would be properly applied. Lind's assurances are all very well—"
"Oh yes, of course; you have got back to Lind," said Lord Evelyn, waking up from his reveries. "Do you know, my dear fellow, that your distrust of Lind is rapidly developing into a sharp and profound hatred?"
"I take men as I find them. Perhaps you can explain to me how Lind should care so little for the future of his daughter as to propose—with the possibility of our marrying—that she should be left penniless?"
"I can explain it to myself, but not to you; you are too thorough an Englishman."
"Are you a foreigner?"
"I try to understand those who are not English. Now, an Englishman's theory is that he himself, and his wife and children—his domestic circle, in fact—are the centre of creation; and that the fate of empires, as he finds that going one way or the other in the telegrams of the morning paper, is a very small matter compared with the necessity of Tom's going to Eton, or Dick's marrying and settling down as the bailiff of the Worcestershire farm. That is all very well; but other people may be of a different habit of mind. Lind's heart and soul are in his present work; he would sacrifice himself, his daughter, you, or anybody else to it, and consider himself amply justified. He does not care about money, or horses, or the luxury of a big establishment; I suppose he has had to live on simple fare many a time, whether he liked it or not, and can put up with whatever happens. If you imagine that you may be cheated by a portion of your money—supposing you were to adopt his proposal—going into his pocket as commission, you do him a wrong."
"No, I don't think that," Brand said, rather unwillingly. "I don't take him to be a common and vulgar swindler. And I can very well believe that he does not care very much for money or luxury or that kind of thing, so far as he himself is concerned. Still, you would think that the ordinary instinct of a father would prevent his doing an injury to the future of his daughter—"
"Would he consider it an injury. Would she?"'
"Well," Brand said, "she is very enthusiastic, and noble, and generous, and does not know what dependence or poverty means. But he is a man of the world, and you would think he would look after his own kith and kin."
"Yes, that is a wholesome conservative English sentiment, but it does not rule the actions of everybody."
"But common sense—"
"Oh, bother common sense! Common-sense is only a grocer that hasn't got an idea beyond ham-and-eggs."
"Well, if I am only a grocer," Brand said, quite submissively, "don't you think the grocer, if he were asked to pay off the National Debt, ought to say, 'Gentlemen, that is a praiseworthy object; but in the meantime wouldn't it be advisable for me to make sure that my wife mayn't have to go on the parish?"
Thereafter there was silence for a time, and when Brand next spoke it was in a certain, precise, hard fashion, as if he wished to make his meaning very clear.
"Suppose, Evelyn," he said, "I were to tell you what has occurred to me as the probable explanation of Lind's indifference about the future of his daughter, would you be surprised?"
"I expect it will be wrong, for you cannot do justice to that man; but I should like to hear it."
"I must tell you he wrote me a letter, a shilly-shallying sort of letter, filled with arguments to prove that a marriage between Natalie and myself would not be expedient, and all the rest of it: not absolutely refusing his consent, you understand, but postponing the matter, and hoping that on further reflection, et caetera, et caetera. Well, do you know what my conclusion is?—that he is definitely resolved I shall not marry his daughter; and that he is playing with me, humbugging me with the possibility of marrying her, until he induces me to hand him over my fortune for the use of the Society. Stare away as you like; that is what I believe to be true."
He rose and walked to the window, and looked out.
"Well, Evelyn, whatever happens, I have to thank you for many things. It has been all like my boyhood come back again, but much more wonderful and beautiful. If I have to go to America, I shall take with me at least the memory of one night at Covent Garden. She was there—and Madame Potecki—and old Calabressa. It was Fidelio they were playing. She gave me some forget-me-nots."
"What do you mean by going to America?" Lord Evelyn said.
Brand remained at the window for a minute or two, silent, and then he returned to his chair.
"You will say I am unjust again. But unless I am incapable of understanding English—such English as he speaks—this is his ultimatum: that unless I give my property, every cent of it, over to the Society, I am to go to America. It is a distinct and positive threat."
"How can you say so!" the other remonstrated. "He has just been to America himself, without any compulsion whatever."
"He has been to America for a certain number of weeks. I am to go for life—and, as he imagines, alone."
His face had been growing darker and darker, the brows lowering ominously over the eyes.
"Now, Brand," his friend said, "you are letting your distrust of this man Lind become a madness. What if he were to say to-morrow that you might marry Natalie the day after?"
The other looked up almost bewildered.
"I would say he was serving some purpose of his own. But he will not say that. He means to keep his daughter to himself, and he means to have my money."
"Why, you admitted, a minute ago, that even you could not suspect him of that!"
"Not for himself—no. Probably he does not care for money. But he cares for ambition—for power; and there is a vacancy in the Council. Don't you see? This would be a tremendous large sum in the eyes of a lot of foreigners: they would be grateful, would they not? And Natalie once transferred to Italy, I could console myself with the honor and dignity of Lind's chair in Lisle Street. Don't you perceive?"
"I perceive this—that you misjudge Lind altogether. I am sure of it. I have seen it from the beginning—from the moment you set your foot in his house. And you tried to blind yourself to the fact because of Natalie. Now that you imagine that he means to take Natalie from you, all your pent-up antagonism breaks loose. Meanwhile, what does Natalie herself say?"
"What does she say?" he repeated, mechanically. He also was lying back in his chair, his eyes gazing aimlessly at the window. But whenever anyone spoke of Natalie, or whenever he himself had to speak of her, a quite new expression came into his face; the brows lifted, the eyes were gentle. "What does she say? Why, nothing. Lind requested me neither to see her nor write to her; and I thought that reasonable until I should have heard what he had to say to me. There is a message I got half an hour ago—not from her."
He handed to Lord Evelyn the anonymous scroll that he had received from the old German.
"Poor old Calabressa!" he said. "Those Italians are always very fond of little mysteries. But how he must have loved that woman?"
"Yes," said the other, absently. "I wonder he has never gone to see his sweetheart of former years."
"What do you mean?"
Brand started. It was not necessary that Lord Evelyn should in the mean time be intrusted with that secret.
"He told me that when he saw Natalie it was to him like a vision from the dead; she was so like her mother. But I must be off, Evelyn; I have to meet Molyneux at two. So that is your advice," he said, as he went to the door—"that I should comply with Lind's demand; or—to put it another way—succumb to his threat?"
"It is not my advice at all—quite the contrary. I say, if you have any doubt or distrust—if you cannot make the sacrifice without perfect faith and satisfaction to yourself—do not think of it."
"And go to America?"
"I cannot believe that any such compulsory alternative exists. But about Natalie, surely you will send her a message; Lind cannot object to that?"
"I will send her no message; I will go to her," the other said, firmly. "I believe Lind wishes me not to see her. Within the duties demanded of me by the Society, his wishes are to me commands; elsewhere and otherwise neither his wishes nor his commands do I value more than a lucifer-match. Is that plain enough, Evelyn?"
And so he went away, forgetting all the sage counsel Calabressa had given him; thinking rather of the kindly, thoughtful, mysterious little message the old man had left behind him, and of the beautiful caged bird that sighed and wept because she thought she was forgotten. She should not think that long!
This was a dark time indeed for Natalie Lind—left entirely by herself, ignorant of what was happening around her, and haunted by vague alarms. But the girl was too proud to show to any one how much she suffered. On the contrary, she reasoned and remonstrated with herself; and forced herself to assume an attitude of something more than resignation, of resolution. If it was necessary that her father should be obeyed, that her lover should maintain this cruel silence, even that he and she should have the wide Atlantic separate them forever, she would not repine. It was not for her who had so often appealed to others to shrink from sacrifice herself. And if this strange new hope that had filled her heart for a time had to be finally abandoned, what of that? What mattered a single life? She had the larger hope; there was another and greater future for her to think about; and she could cherish the thought that she at least had done nothing to imperil or diminish the work to which so many of her friends had given their lives.
But silence is hard to bear. Ever since the scene with her father, a certain undeclared estrangement had prevailed between these two; and no reference whatsoever had been made to George Brand. Her lover had sent her no message—no word of encouragement, of assurance, or sympathy. Even Calabressa had gone. There remained to her only the portrait that Calabressa had given her; and in the solitude of her own room many a time she sat and gazed at the beautiful face with some dim, wondering belief that she was looking at her other self, and that she could read in the features some portion of her own experiences, her own joys and sorrows. For surely those soft, dark, liquid eyes must have loved and been beloved? And had they too filled with gladness when a certain step had been heard coming near? and they looked up with trust and pride and tenderness, and filled with tears again in absence, when only the memory of loving words remained? She recalled many a time what Calabressa had said to her—"My child, may Heaven keep you as true and brave as your mother was, and send you more happiness." Her mother, then, had not been happy? But she was brave, Calabressa had said: when she loved a man, would she not show herself worthy of her love?
This was all very well; but in spite of her reasoning and her forced courage, and her self-possession in the presence of others, Natalie had got into the habit of crying in the quietude of her own room, to the great distress of the little Anneli, who had surprised her once or twice. And the rosy-cheeked German maid guessed pretty accurately what had happened; and wondered very much at the conduct of English lovers, who allowed their sweethearts to pine and fret in solitude without sending them letters or coming to see them. But on this particular afternoon Anneli opened the door, in answer to a summons, and found outside a club commissionaire whom she had seen once or twice before; and when he gave her a letter, addressed in a handwriting which she recognized, and ask for an answer, she was as much agitated as if it had come from her own sweetheart in Gorlitz. She snatched it from the man, as if she feared he would take it back. She flew with it up-stairs, breathless. She forgot to knock at the door.
"Oh, Fraulein, it is a letter!" said she, in great excitement, "and there is to be an answer—"
Then she hesitated. But the good-sense of the child told her she ought to go.
"I will wait outside, Fraulein. Will you ring when you have written the answer?"
When Natalie opened the letter she was outwardly quite calm—a little pale, perhaps; but as she read it her heart beat fast. And it was her heart that instantly dictated the answer to this brief and simple appeal:
"My Natalie,—It is your father's wish that I should not see you. Is it your wish also? There is something I would like to say to you."
It was her heart that answered. She rose directly. She never thought twice, or even once, about any wish, or menace, or possible consequence. She went straight to her desk, and with a shaking hand wrote these lines:
"My Own,—Come to me now, at any time—when you please. Am I not yours?
Despite herself, she had to pause, to steady her hand—and because her heart was beating so fast that she felt choked—before she could properly address the envelope. Then she carried the letter to Anneli, who she knew was waiting outside. That done, she shut herself in again, to give herself time to think, though in truth she could scarcely think at all. For all sorts of emotions were struggling for the mastery of her—joy and a proud resolve distinctly predominant. It was done, and she would abide by it. She was not given to fear.
But she tried hard to think. At last her lover was coming to her; he would ask her what she was prepared to do: what would she answer?
Then, again, the joy of the thought that she was about to see him drove every other consideration out of her mind. How soon might he be here? Hurriedly she went to a jar of flowers on the table, chose some scarlet geraniums, and turned to a mirror. Her haste did not avail much, for her fingers were still trembling: but that was the color he had said, on one occasion, suited her best. She had not been wearing flowers in her hair of late.
From time to time, for a second or so, some thought of her father intervened. But then her father had only enjoined her to dismiss forever the hope of her marrying the man to whom she had given her heart and her life: that could not prevent her loving him, and seeing him, and telling him that her love was his. She wished the geraniums were less rose-red and more scarlet in hue. It was the scarlet he had approved of—that evening that he and she the little Polish lady had dined together.
She had not long to wait. With a quick, intense consciousness she heard the hansom drive up, and the rapid knock that followed; her heart throbbed through the seconds of silence; then she knew that he was ascending the stair; then it seemed to her as if the life would go out of her altogether. But when he flung the door open and came toward her; when he caught her two hands in his—one hand in each hand—and held them tight; when, in a silence that neither cared to break, he gazed into her rapidly moistening eyes—then the full tide of joy and courage returned to her heart, and she was proud that she had sent him that answer. For some seconds—to be remembered during a life time—they regarded each other in silence; then he released her hands, and began to put back the hair from her forehead as if he would see more clearly into the troubled deeps of her eyes; and then, somehow—perhaps to hide her crying—she buried her face in his breast, and his arms were around her, and she was sobbing out all the story of her waiting and her despair.
"What!" said he, cheerfully, to calm and reassure her, "the brave Natalie to be frightened like that!"
"I was alone," she murmured. "I had no one to speak to; and I could not understand. Oh, my love, my love, you do not know what you are to me!"
He kissed her; her cheeks were wet.
"Natalie," said he in a low voice, "don't forget this: we may be separated—that is possible—I don't know; but if we live fifty years apart from each other—if you never hear one word more from me or of me—be sure of this, that I am thinking of you always, and loving you, as I do at this moment when my arms are around you. Will you remember that? Will you believe that—always?"
"I could not think otherwise," she answered. "But now that you are with me—that I can hear you speak to me—" And at this point her voice failed her altogether; and he could only draw her closer to him, and soothe and caress her, and stroke the raven-black hair that had never before thrilled his fingers with its soft, strange touch.
"Perhaps," she said at last, in a broken and hesitating voice, "you will blame me for having said what I have said. I have had no girl-companions; scarcely any woman to tell me what I should do and say. But—but I thought you were going to America—I thought I should never see you again—I was lonely and miserable; and when I saw you again, how could I help saying I was glad? How could I help saying that, and more?—for I never knew it till now. Oh, my love, do you know that you have become the whole world to me? When you are away from me, I would rather die than live!"
"I must say that to you—once—that you may understand—if we should never see each other again. And now—"
She gently released herself from his embrace, and went and sat down by the table. He took a chair near her and held her hand. She would not look up, for her eyes were still wet with tears.
"And now," she said, making a great effort to regain her self-control, "you must tell me about yourself. A woman may have her feelings and fancies, and cry over them when she is afraid or alone; that is nothing; it is the way of the world. It is a man's fate that is of importance."
"You must not talk like that, Natalie," said he gravely. "Our fate is one. Without you, I don't value my life more than this bit of geranium-leaf; with you, life would be worth having."
"And you must not talk like that either," she said. "Your life is valuable to others. Ah, my dear friend, that is what I have been trying to console myself with of late. I said, 'Well, if he goes away and does not see me again, will he not be freer? He has a great work to do; he may have to go away from England for many years; why should he be encumbered with a wife?"
"It was your father, I presume, who made those suggestions to you?" said Brand, regarding her.
"Yes; papa said something like that," she answered, quite innocently. "That is what would naturally occur to him; his work has always the first place in his thoughts. And with you, too; is it not so?"
She looked up quickly.
"I will be quite frank with you, Natalie. You have the first place in my thoughts; I hope you ever will have, while I am a living man. But cannot I give the Society all the work that is in me equally well, whether I love you or whether I don't, whether you become my wife or whether you do not? I have no doubt your father has been talking to you as he has been talking to me."
She placed her disengaged hand on the top of his, and said, gently,
"My father perhaps does not quite understand you; perhaps he is too anxious. I, for one, am not anxious—about that. Do you know how I trust you, my dearest of friends? Sometimes I have said to myself, 'I will ask him for a pledge. I will say to him that he must promise, that he must swear to me, that whatever happens as between him and me, nothing, nothing, nothing in all the world will induce him to give up what he has undertaken;' but then again I have said to myself, 'No, I can trust him for that.'"
"I think you may, Natalie," said he, rather absently. "And yet what could have led me to join such a movement but your own noble spirit—the glamour of your voice—the thanks of your eyes? You put madness into my blood with your singing."
"Do you call it madness?" she said, with a faint flush in the pale olive face. "Is it not rather kindness—is it not justice to others—the desire to help—something that the angels in heaven must feel when they look down and see what a great misery there is in the world?"
"I think you are an angel yourself, Natalie," said he, quite simply, "and that you have come down and got among a lot of people who don't treat you too well. However, we must come to the present moment. You spoke of America; now what do you know about that?"
The abrupt question startled her. She had been so overjoyed to see him—her whole soul was so buoyant and radiant with happiness—that she had quite forgotten or dismissed the vague fears that had been of late besetting her. But she proceeded to tell him, with a little hesitation here and there, and with a considerable smoothing down of phrases, what her father had said to her. She tried to make it appear quite reasonable. And all she prayed for was that, if he were sent to America, if they had to part for many years, or forever, she should be permitted to say good-bye to him.
"We are not parted yet," said Brand, briefly.
The fact was, he had just got a new key to the situation. So that threat about America could serve a double purpose? He was now more than ever convinced that Ferdinand Lind was merely playing off and on with him until this money question should be settled; and that he had been resolved all the time that his daughter should not marry. He was beginning to understand.
"Natalie," said he, slowly, "I told you I had something to say to you. You know your father wrote to me in the North, asking me neither to see you nor write to you until some matter between him and me was settled. Well, I respected his wish until I should know what the thing was. Now that I do know, it seems to me that you are as much concerned as any one; and that it is not reasonable, it is not possible, I should refrain from seeing you and consulting you."
"No one shall prevent your seeing me, when it is your wish," said the girl, in a low voice.
"This, then, is the point: you know enough about the Society to understand, and there is no particular secret. Your father wishes me to enter the higher grade of officers, under the Council; and the first condition is that one surrenders up every farthing of one's property."
He stared at her. Her "Yes?"—with its affectionate interest and its absolute absence of surprise—was almost the exact equivalent of Lord Evelyn's "Well?"
"Perhaps you would advise me to consent?" he said, almost in the way of a challenge.
"Ah, no," she said, with a smile. "It is not for me to advise on such things. What you decide for yourself, that will be right."
"But you don't understand, my darling. Supposing I were ambitious of getting higher office, which I am not; supposing I were myself willing to sell my property to swell the funds of the Society—and I don't think I should be willing in any case—do you think I would part with what ought to belong to my wife—to you, Natalie? Do you think I would have you marry a beggar—one dependent on the indulgence of people unknown to him?"
And now there was a look of real alarm on the girl's face.
"Ah!" she said, quickly. "Is not that what my father feared? You are thinking of me when you should think of others. Already I—I—interfere with your duty; I tempt you—"
"My darling, be calm, be reasonable. There is no duty in the matter; your father acknowledges that himself. It is a proposal I am free to accept or reject, as I please; and now I promise you that, as you won't give me any advice, I shall decide without thinking of you at all. Will that satisfy you?"
She remained silent for a second or two, and then she said thoughtfully,
"Perhaps you could decide just as if there were no possibility of my ever being your wife?"
"To please you, I will assume that too."
Then she said, after a bit,
"One word more, dearest; you must grant me this—that I may always be able to think of it when I am alone and far from you, and be able to reassure myself: it is the promise I thought I could do so well without. Now you will give it me?"
"That whatever happens to you or to me, whatever my father demands of me, and wherever you may have to go, you will never withdraw from what you have undertaken."
He met the earnest, pleading look of those beautiful eyes without flinching. His heart was light enough, so far as such a promise was concerned. Heavier oaths than that lay on him.
"That is simple enough, Natalie," said he. "I promise you distinctly that nothing shall cause me to swerve from my allegiance to the Society; I will give absolute and implicit obedience, and the best of such work as I can do. But they must not ask me to forget my Natalie."
She rose, still holding his hand, and stood by him, so that he could not quite see her face. Then she said, in a very low voice indeed,
"Dearest, may I give you a ring?—you do not wear one at all—"
"But surely, Natalie, it is for me to choose a ring for you?"
"Ah, it is not that I mean," she said, quickly, and with her face flushing. "It is a ring that will remind you of the promise you have given me to-day—when we may not be able to see each other."
To this pale student from the Reading-room of the British Museum, as he stands on a bridge crossing one of the smaller canals, surely the scene around him must seem one fitted to gladden the heart; for it is Venice at mid-day, in glowing sunlight: the warm cream-white fronts of the marble palaces and casemented houses, the tall campanili with their golden tips, the vast and glittering domes of the churches, all rising fair and dream-like into the intense dark-blue of a cloudless sky. How the hot sunlight brings out all the beautiful color of the place—the richly laden fruit-stalls in the Riva dei Schiavoni; the russet and saffron sails of the vessels; the canal-boats coming in to the steps with huge open tuns of purple wine to be ladled out with copper buckets; and then all around the shining, twinkling plain of the green-hued sea, catching here and there a reflection from the softly red walls of San Giorgio and the steel-gray gleaming domes of Santa Maria della Salute.
Then the passers-by: these are not like the dusky ghosts that wander through the pale-blue mists of Bloomsbury. Here comes a buxom water-carrier, in her orange petticoat and sage-green shawl, who has the two copper cans at the end of the long piece of wood poised on her shoulders, pretty nearly filled to the brim. Then a couple of the gayer gondoliers in white and blue, with fancy waist-belts, and rings in their ears. A procession of black-garbed monks wends slowly along; they have come from the silence of the Armenian convent over there at the horizon. Some wandering minstrels shoot their gondola into the mouth of the canal, and strike up a gay waltz, while they watch the shaded balconies above. Here is a Lascar ashore from the big steamer that is to start for Alexandria on the morrow. A company of soldiers, with blue coats, canvas trousers, and white gaiters, half march and half trot along to the quick, crackling music of the buglers. A swarthy-visaged maiden, with the calm brow of a Madonna, appears in the twilight of a balcony, with a packet of maize in her hand, and in a minute or two she is surrounded with a cloud of pigeons. Then this beggar—a child of eight or ten—red-haired and blue-eyed: surely she has stepped out of one of Titian's pictures? She whines and whimpers her prayers to him; but there is something in her look that he has seen elsewhere. It belongs to another century.
From these reveries Mr. Gathorne Edwards was aroused by some one tapping him on the shoulder. It was Calabressa.
"My dear Monsieur Edouarts," said he, in a low voice—for the red-haired little beggar was still standing there expectant—"he has gone over to the shipping-place. We must follow later on. Meanwhile, regard this letter that has just been forwarded to me. Ah, you English do not forget your promises!"
Edwards threw a piece of money to the child, who passed on. Then he took the letter and read it. It was in French.
* * * * *
"Dear Calabressa,—I want you to tell me what you have done with Yakov Kirski. They seem unwilling to say here, and I do not choose to inquire further. But I undertook to look after him, and I understood he was getting on very well, and now you have carried him off. I hope it is with no intention of allowing him to go back to Russia, where he will simply make an attempt at murder, and fall into the hands of the police. Do not let the poor devil go and make a fool of himself. If you want money to send him back to England, show this letter, or forward it to Messrs. ——, who will give you what you want.
"Your friend, George Brand.
"P.S.—I have seen your beautiful caged little bird. I can say no more at present, but that she shall not suffer through any neglect of mine."
* * * * *
"What is that about the caged bird?" said Edwards.
"Ah, the caged bird?" said Calabressa. "The caged bird?—do you see, that is a metaphor. It is nothing; one makes one's little joke. But I was saying, my dear friend, that you English do not promise, and then forget. No; he says, 'I will befriend this poor devil of a Kirski;' and here he comes inquiring after him. Now I must answer the letter; you will accompany me, Monsieur Edouarts? Ten minutes in my little room, and it is done."
So the two walked away together. This Edwards who now accompanied Calabressa was a man of about thirty, who looked younger; tall, fair, with a slight stoop, a large forehead, and blue eyes that stared near-sightedly through spectacles. The ordinary expression of his face was grave even to melancholy, but his occasional smile was humorous, and when he laughed the laugh was soft and light like that of a child. His knowledge of modern languages was considered to be almost unrivalled, though he had travelled but little.
When, in this little room, Calabressa had at length finished his letter and dusted it over with sand, he was not at all loath to show it to this master of modern speech. Calabressa was proud of his French; and if he would himself have acknowledged that it was perhaps here and there of doubtful idiom and of phonetic spelling, would he not have claimed for it that it was fluent, incisive, and ornate?
"My valued friend, it is not permitted me to answer your questions in precise terms; but he to whom you have had the goodness to extend your bountiful protection is well and safe, and under my own care. No; he goes not back to Russia. His thoughts are different; his madness travels in other directions; it is no longer revenge, it is adoration and gratitude that his heart holds. And you, can you not guess who has worked the miracle? Think of this: you have a poor wretch who is distracted by injuries and suffering; he goes away alone into Europe; he is buffeted about with the winds of hunger and thirst and cold: he cannot speak; he is like a dog—a wild beast that people drive away from their door. And all at once some one addresses him in gentle tones: it is the voice of an angel to him! You plough and harrow the poor wretch's heart with suffering and contempt and hopelessness, until it is a desert, a wilderness; but some one, by accident, one day drops a seed of kindness into it, and behold! the beautiful flower of love springing up, and all the man's life going into it! Can you understand—you who ought to understand? Were you not present when the bewildered, starved, hunted creature heard that gentle voice of pity, like an angel speaking from heaven? And if the beautiful girl, who will be the idol of my thoughts through my remaining years, if she does not know that she has rescued a human soul from despair, you will tell her—tell her from me, from Calabressa. What would not Kirski do for her? you might well ask. The patient regards the physician who has cured him with gratitude: this is more that gratitude, it is worship. What she has preserved she owns; he would give his life to her, to you, to any one whom she regards with affection. For myself, I do not say such things; but she may count on me also, while one has yet life.
"I am yours, and hers, Calabressa."
* * * * *
The letter was handed to Gathorne Edwards with a proud air; and he read it, and handed it back.
"This man Kirski is not so much of a savage as you imagine," he said. "He learns quickly, and forgets nothing. He can repeat all the articles of membership; but it is No. 5 that he is particularly fond of. You have not heard him go over it, Calabressa?"
"I? No. He does not waste my time that way."
"His pronunciation," continued the younger man, with a smile, "is rather like the cracking of dry twigs. 'Article 5. Whatever punishment may be decreed against any Officer, Companion, or Friend of the Society may be vicariously borne by any other Officer, Companion, or Friend who of his own full and free consent acts as substitute; the original offender becoming thereby redeemed, acquitted, and released.' And then he invariably adds: 'Why not make me of some use? To myself my life is nothing.'"
At this moment there was a tapping at the door.
"It is himself," said Edwards.
"Enter!" Calabressa called out.
The man who now came into the room was a very different looking person from the wild, unkempt creature who had confronted Natalie Lind in Curzon Street. The voluminous red beard and mustache had been cropped; he wore the clothes of a decent workman, with a foreign touch here and there; he was submissive and docile in look.
"Well, where have you been, my friend?" Calabressa said to him in Italian.
Kirski glanced at Gathorne Edwards, and began to speak to him in Russian.
"Will you explain for me, little father? I have been to many churches."
"The police will not suspect him if he goes there," said Calabressa, laughing.
"And to the shops in the Piazza San Marco, where the pictures are of the saints."
"Little father, I can find no one of the saints so beautiful as that one in England that the Master Calabressa knows."
Calabressa laughed again.
"Allons, mon grand enfant! Tell him that if it is only a likeness he is hunting for, I can show him one."
With that he took out from his breast-pocket a small pocket book, opened it, found a certain photograph, and put it on the table, shoving it over toward Kirski. The dim-eyed Russian did not dare to touch it; but he stooped over it, and he put one trembling hand on each side of it, as if he would concentrate the light, and gazed at this portrait of Natalie Lind until he could see nothing at all for the tears that came into his eyes. Then he rose abruptly, and said something rapidly to Edwards.
"He says, 'Take it away, or you will make me a thief. It is worth more than all the diamonds in the world.'"
Calabressa did not laugh this time. He regarded the man with a look in which there was as much pity as curiosity.
"The poor devil!" he said. "Tell him I will ask the beautiful saint whom he worships so to send him a portrait of herself with her own hands. I will. She will do as much as that for her friend Calabressa."
This had scarcely been translated to Kirski when, in his sudden gratitude, he caught Calabressa's hand and kissed it.
"Tell him, also," Calabressa said, good-naturedly, "that if he is hungry before dinner-time there is sausage and bread and beer in the cupboard. But he must not stir out till we come back. Allons, mon bon camarade!"
Calabressa lit another cigarette, and the two companions sallied forth. They stepped into a gondola, and presently they were being borne swiftly over the plain of light-green water. By-and-by they plunged into a varied and picturesque mass of shipping, and touched land again in front of a series of stores. The gondola was ordered to await their return.
Calabressa passed without question through the lower floor of this particular building, where the people were busy with barrels of flour, and led the way up-stairs until he stopped at a certain door. He knocked thrice and entered. There was a small, dark man seated at a table, apparently engaged with some bills of lading.
"You are punctual, Brother Calabressa."
"Your time is valuable, Brother Granaglia. Let me present to you my comrade Signor Edouarts, of whom I wrote to you."
The sallow-faced little man with the tired look bowed courteously, begged his guests to be seated, and pushed toward them a box of cigarettes.
"Now, my Calabressa," said he, "to the point. As you guess, I am pressed for time. Seven days hence will find me in Moscow."
"In Moscow!" exclaimed Calabressa. "You dare not!"
Granaglia waved his hand a couple of inches.
"Do not protest. It may be your turn to-morrow. And my good friend Calabressa would find Moscow just about as dangerous for him as for me."
"Monsieur le Secretaire, I have no wish to try. But to the point, as you say. May one ask how it stands with Zaccatelli?"
Granaglia glanced at the Englishman.
"Of course he knows everything," Calabressa explained instantly. "How otherwise should I have brought him with me?"
"Well, Zaccatelli has received his warning."
"Who carried it?"
"You! You are the devil! You thrust your head into the lion's den!"
The black-eyed, worn-faced little man seemed pleased. An odd, dry smile appeared about the thin lips.
"It needed no courage at all, friend Calabressa. His Eminence knows who we are, no one better. The courage was his. It is not a pleasant thing when you are told that within a certain given time you will be a dead man; but Zaccatelli did not blanch; no, he was very polite to me. He paid us compliments. We were not like the others, Calabressa. We were good citizens and Christians; even his Holiness might be induced to lend an ear; why should not the Church and we be friends?"
Calabressa burst out laughing.
"Surely evil days have fallen on the Pope, Brother Granaglia, when one of his own Cardinals proposes that he should at last countenance a secret society. But his Eminence was mad with fear—was it not so? He wanted to win you over with promises, eh? Idle words, and no more. He feeds you on wind, and sends you away, and returns to his mistresses and his wines and his fountains of perfume?"
"Not quite so," said the other, with the same dry smile, "His Eminence, as I say to you, knows as well as any one in Europe who and what we are, and what is our power. The day after I called on him with my little message, what does he do—of his own free-will, mind you—but send back the daughter of old De Bedros to her home, with a pledge to her father that she shall have a dowry of ten thousand lire when she marries. The father is pleased, the daughter is not. She sits and cries. She talks of herself getting at him with a stiletto."
He took a cigarette, and accepted a light from Calabressa.
"Further," he continued, "his Eminence is so kind as to propose to give the Council an annual subsidy from his own purse of thirty thousand lire."
"Thirty thousand lire!" Calabressa exclaimed.
But at this point even Granaglia began to laugh.
"Yes, yes, my friend," he said, apparently apostrophizing the absent Cardinal. "You know, then, who we are, and you do not wish to give up all pleasures. No; we are to become the good boy among secret societies; we are to have the blessing of the Pope; we are to fight Prince Bismarck for you. Prince Bismarck has all his knights and his castles on the board; but what are they against an angelic host of bishops and some millions of common pawns? Prince Bismarck wishes to plunge Europe again into war. The church with this tremendous engine within reach, says, No. Do you wish to find eight men—eight men, at the least—out of every company of every regiment in all your corps d'armee throw down their rifles at the first onset of battle? You will shoot them for mutiny? My dear fellow, you cannot, the enemy is upon you. With eight men out of each company throwing down their weapons, and determined either to desert or die, how on earth can you fight at all? Well, then, good Bismarck, you had better make your peace with the Church, and rescind those Falk laws. What do you think of that scheme, Calabressa? It was ingenious, was it not, to have come into the head of a man under sentence of death?"
"But the thirty thousand lire, Brother Granaglia. It is a tremendous bribe."
"The Council does not accept bribes, Brother Calabressa," said the other, coldly,
"It is decided, then, that the decree remains to be executed?"
"I know nothing to the contrary. But if you wish to know for certain, you must seek the Council. They are at Naples."
He pulled an ink-bottle before him, and made a motion with his forefinger.
"Yes, yes," Calabressa answered. "And I will go on to Naples, Brother Granaglia; for I have with me one who I think will carry out the wishes of the Council effectively, so far as his Eminence the Cardinal is concerned."
"Who is he?" said the other, but with no great interest.
"Yakov Kirski. He is a Russian."
It was a momentous decision that George Brand had to arrive at; and yet he scarcely seemed to be aware of it. The man had changed so much during these past six months.
"Do you know, Evelyn," he was saying to his friend, on the very evening on which his answer was to be given to Ferdinand Lind, "I am beginning to look on that notion of my going to America with anything but dislike. Rather the opposite, indeed. I should like to get rid of a lot of old associations, and start in a new and wider field. With another life to lead, don't you want another sort of world to live it in?"
Lord Evelyn regarded him. No one had observed with a closer interest the gradual change that had come over this old friend of his. And he was proud of it, too; for had it not been partly of his doing?
"One does not breathe free air here," Brand continued, rather absently—as if his mental vision was fixed on the greater spaces beyond the seas. "With a new sort of life beginning, wouldn't it be better to start it under new conditions—feeling yourself unhampered—with nothing around to disturb even the foolishness of your dreams and hopes? Then you could work away at your best, leaving the result to time."
"I know perfectly what all that means," Lord Evelyn said. "You are anxious to get away from Lind. You believe in your work, but you don't like to be associated with him."
"Perhaps I know a little more than you, Evelyn," said Brand, gently, "of Lind's relation to the society. He does not represent it to me at all. He is only one of its servants, like ourselves. But don't let us talk about him."
"You must talk about him," Lord Evelyn said, as he pulled out his watch. "It is now seven. At eight you go to the initiation of Molyneux, and you have promised to give Lind his answer to-night. Well?"
Brand was playing idly with a pocket-pencil. After a minute or two, he said,
"I promised Natalie to consider this thing without any reference to her whatever—that I would decide just as if there was no possibility of her becoming my wife. I promised that; but it is hard to do, Evelyn. I have tried to imagine my never having seen her, and that I had been led into this affair solely through you. Then I do think that if you had come to me and said that my giving up every penny I possess would forward a good work—would do indirect benefit to a large number of people, and so forth—I do think I could have said, 'All right, Evelyn; take it.' I never cared much for money; I fancy I could get on pretty well on a sovereign a week. I say that if you had come to me with this request—"
"Precisely," Lord Evelyn said, quickly. "You would have said yes, if I had come to you. But because it is Lind, whom you distrust, you fall away from the height of self-sacrifice, and regard the proposal from the point of view of the Waldegrave Club. Mind you, I am not counselling you one way or the other. I am only pointing out to you that it is your dislike of Lind that prevents your doing what you otherwise would have done."
"Very well," said the other, boldly. "Have I not reason to distrust him? How can I explain his conduct and his implied threats except on the supposition that he has been merely playing with me, as far as his daughter is concerned; and that as soon as I had handed over this property I should find it out? Oh, it is a very pretty scheme altogether! This heap of English money transferred to the treasury; Lind at length achieving his ambition of being put on the Council; Natalie carried off to Italy; and myself granted the honor of stepping into Lind's shoes in Lisle Street. On the other hand: 'Refuse, and we pack you off to America.' Now, you know, Evelyn, one does not like to be threatened into anything!"
"Then you have decided to say, No?"
He did not answer for a second or two; when he did, his manner was quite changed.
"I rather think I know what both you and Natalie would have me do, although you won't say so explicitly. And if you and she had come to me with this proposal, do you think there would have been any difficulty? I should have been satisfied if she had put her hand in mine, and said, 'Thank you.' Then I should have reminded her that she was sacrificing something too."
He relapsed into silence again; Lord Evelyn was vaguely conscious that the minutes were passing by, and that his friend seemed as far off as ever from any decision.
"You remember the old-fashioned rose-garden, Evelyn?"
"At the beeches? Yes."
"Don't you think Natalie would like the view from that side of the house? And if she chose that side, I was thinking of having a conservatory built all the length of the rooms, with steps opening out into the rose-garden. She could go out there for a stroll of a morning."
So these had been his dreams.
"If I go to America," he said presently, "I should expect you to look after the old place a little bit. You might take your sisters there occasionally, and turn them loose; it wants a woman's hand here and there. Mrs. Alleyne would put you all right; and of course I should send Waters down, and give up those rooms in Buckingham Street."
"But I cannot imagine your going to America, somehow," Lord Evelyn said. "Surely there is plenty for you to do here."
"I will say this of Lind, that he is not an idle talker. What he says he means. Besides, Molyneux can take up my work in the North; he is the very man."
Again silence. It was now half-past seven.
"I wish, though, it had been something more exciting," Brand said. "I should not have minded having a turn at the Syrian business; I am not much afraid of risking my neck. There is not much danger in Philadelphia."
"But look here, Brand," said Lord Evelyn, regarding him attentively. "You are speaking with great equanimity about your going to America; possibly you might like the change well enough; but do I understand you that you are prepared to go alone?"
Brand looked up; he understood what was meant.
"If I am ordered—yes."
He held out his right hand; on the third finger there was a massive gold ring—a plain hoop, without motto or design whatever.
"There," said he, "is the first ring I ever wore. It was given to me this afternoon, to remind me of a promise; and that promise is to me more binding than a hundred oaths."
He rose with a sigh.
"Ah, well, Evelyn, whatever happens we will not complain. There have been compensations."
"But you have not told me what answer you mean to give to Lind."
"Suppose I wait until I see him before deciding?"
"Then you will say, No. You have allowed your distrust of him to become a sort of mania, and the moment you see him the mere sight of him will drive you into antagonism."
"I tell you what I wish I could do, Evelyn," said the other, laughing: "I wish I could turn over everything I have got to you, and escape scot-free to America and start my own life free and unencumbered."
His face grew grave again.
"There is nothing possible else!" said he.
It was nearly eight o'clock when he left. As he walked along Piccadilly, a clear and golden twilight was shining over the trees in the Green Park. All around him was the roar of the London streets; but it was not that that he heard. Was it not rather the sound of a soft, low voice, and the silvery notes of the zither? His memory acted as a sea-shell, and brought him an echo from other days and other climes.
"Behold the beautiful night—the wind sleeps drowsily—the silent shores slumber in the dark:
"Sul placido elemento Vien meco a navigar!
"The soft wind moves—as it stirs among the leaves—it moves and dies—among the murmur of the water:
"Lascia l'amico tetto, Vien meco a navigar!
"Now on the spacious mantle—of the already darkening heavens—see, oh the shining wonder—how the white stars tremble:
"Sul l'onde addormentate Vien meco a navigar!"
This was the voice that he heard amidst the roar of the London streets. Would he hear it far away on the wide Atlantic, with the shores of England hidden behind the mists of rain? To-night was to decide what the future of his life was to be.
If Natalie had appeared at this moment, and said to him, "Dearest, let it be as my father wishes;" or if Lord Evelyn had frankly declared to him that it was his duty to surrender his possessions to this Society to which he had devoted his life, there would have been not a moment's hesitation. But now he was going to see a man whom he suspected and was inclined to hate, and his nature began to harden. It would be a question between one man of the world and another. Sentiment would be put aside. He would no longer be played with. A man should be master of his own affairs.
This was what he said to himself. But he had quite forgotten his determination to consider this matter as if no Natalie existed; and his resolve to exclude sentiment altogether did not interfere with the fact that always, if unconsciously, there remained in his mind a certain picture he had been dreaming a good deal about of late. It was a picture of an old-fashioned rose-garden in the light of an English summer morning, with a young wife walking there, herself taller and fairer than any flower. Would she sing, in her gladness, the songs of other lands, to charm the sweet English air? There was that one about O dolce Napoli!—o suol beato!—
When he got to Lisle Street, every one had arrived except Molyneux himself. Mr. Lind was gravely polite to him. Of course no mention could then be made about private affairs; the talk going on was all about the East, and how certain populations were faring.
Presently the pink-faced farmer-agitator was ushered in, looking a little bit alarmed. But this frightened look speedily disappeared, and gave place to one of mild astonishment, as he appeared to recognize the faces of one or two of those in the room. The business of the evening, so far as the brief formalities were concerned, was speedily got over, and five of the members of the small assembly immediately left.
"Now, Mr. Molyneux," said Ferdinand Lind, pleasantly, "Mr. Brand and I have some small private matters to talk over: will you excuse us if we leave you for a few minutes? Here are some articles of our association which you may look over in the mean time. May I trouble you to follow me, Mr. Brand?"
Brand followed him into an inner and smaller room, and sat down.
"You said you would have your mind made up to-day with regard to the proposal I put before you," Mr. Lind observed, with a matter-of-fact air, as he drew in his chair to the small table.
Brand simply nodded, and said "Yes." He was measuring his man. He thought his manner was a good deal too suave.
"But allow me to say, my dear Mr. Brand, that, as far I am concerned, there is no hurry. Have you given yourself time? It is a matter of moment; one should consider."
"I have considered."
His tone was firm: one would have thought he had never had any hesitation at all. But his decision had not been definitely arrived at until, some quarter of an hour before, he had met Ferdinand Lind face to face.
"I may say at once that I prefer to remain in my present grade."
He was watching Lind as he spoke. There was a slight, scarcely perceptible, movement of the eyebrows; that was all. The quiet courtesy of his manner remained undisturbed.
"That is your decision, then?" he said, just as if some trifling matter had been arranged.
"Perhaps I need not bother you with my reasons," Brand continued, speaking slowly and with precision, "but there are several."
"I have no doubt you have given the subject serious consideration," said Mr. Lind, without expressing any further interest or curiosity.
Now this was not at all what George Brand wanted. He wanted to have his suspicions allayed or confirmed. He wanted to let this man know how he read the situation.
"One reason I may as well name to you, Mr. Lind," said he, being forced to speak more plainly. "If I were to marry, I should like to give my wife a proper home. I should not like her to marry a pauper—one dependent on the complaisance of other people. And really it has seemed to me strange that you, with your daughter's future, your daughter's interests to think of, should have made this proposal—"
Lind interrupted him with a slight deprecatory motion of the hand.
"Pardon me," said he. "Let us confine ourselves to business, if you please."
"I presume it is a man's business to provide for the future of his wife," said Brand, somewhat hotly, his pride beginning to kick against this patronizing graciousness of manner.
"I must beg of you, my dear sir," said Mr. Lind, with the same calm courtesy, "to keep private interests and projects entirely outside of this matter, which relates to the Society alone, and your duty, and the wishes of those with whom you are associated. You have decided?—very well. I am sorry; but you are within your right."
"How can you talk like that?" said Brand, bluntly. "Sorry that your daughter is not to marry a beggar?"
"I must decline to have Natalie introduced into this subject in any way whatever," said Mr. Lind.
"Let us drop the subject, then," said Brand, in a friendly way, for he was determined to have some further enlightenment. "Now about Natalie. May I ask you plainly if you have any objection to a marriage between her and myself?"
The answer was prompt and emphatic.
"I have every objection. I have said before that it would be inexpedient in many ways. It is not to be thought of."
Brand was not surprised by this refusal; he had expected it; he had put the question as a matter of form.
"Now one other question, Mr. Lind, and I shall be satisfied," said he, watching the face of the man opposite him with a keen scrutiny. "Was it ever your intention, at any time, to give your consent to our marriage, in any circumstances whatever?"
Ferdinand Lind was an admirable actor.
"Is it worth while discussing imaginary things—possibilities only?" he said, carelessly.
"Because, you see," continued Brand, who was not to be driven from his point, "any plain and ordinary person, looking from the outside at the whole affair, might imagine that you had been merely temporizing with me, neither giving nor refusing your consent, until I had handed over this money; and that, as you had never intended to let your daughter marry, that was the reason why you did not care whether I retained a penny of my own property or not."
Lind did not flinch for an instant; nor was there the slightest trace of surprise, or annoyance, or resentment in his look. He rose and pushed back his chair.
"Suppose we let outsiders think what they please, Mr. Brand," said he, with absolute composure. "We have more serious matters to attend to."
Brand rose also. He guessed what was coming, and he had nerved himself to face it. The whole course of this man's action was now as clear to him as noonday.
"I have been considering further the suggestion I mentioned to you the other day, that you should go over to some of the big American cities," said Mr. Lind, almost with an indifferent air as he turned over some papers. "We are strong there; you will find plenty of friends; but what is wanted is cohesion, arrangement, co-operation. Now you say yourself this Mr. Molyneux would be an admirable successor to you in the North?"
"None better," said Brand. This sentence of banishment had been foreseen; he knew how to encounter it when it came.
"I think, on the whole, it would be advisable then. When could you go?"
"I could start to-night," he said. But then, despite himself, a blush of embarrassment mounted to his forehead, and he added quickly, "No; not to-night. The day after to-morrow."
"There is no need for any such great hurry," said Mr. Lind, with his complaisant smile. "You will want much direction, many letters. Come, shall we join your friend in the other room?"
The two men, apparently on the best of terms, went back to Molyneux, and the talk became general. George Brand, as he sat there, kept his right hand shut tight, that so he could press the ring that Natalie had given him; and when he thought of America, it was almost with a sense of relief. She would approve; he would not betray his promise to her But if only that one moment were over in which he should have to bid her farewell!
A GOOD-NIGHT MESSAGE.
Brand had nerved himself for that interview; he had determined to betray neither surprise nor concern; he was prepared for the worst. When it was intimated to him that hence-forth his life was to be lived out beyond the seas, he had appeared to take it as a matter of course. Face to face with his enemy, he would utter no protest. Then, had he not solemnly promised to Natalie that nothing in the world should tempt him from his allegiance? Why should he shrink from going to America, or prefer London to Philadelphia? He had entered into a service that took no heed of such things.