"If I wish to speak to her!—if I wish to speak to her!" she exclaimed; and there were tears in her voice, if there were none in the sad eyes.
"You forget, madame, that your daughter has been brought up in the belief that you died when she was a mere infant. Consider the effect of any sudden disclosure."
"But has she never suspected? I have passed her; she has seen me. I gave her a locket: what did she think?"
"She was puzzled, yes; but how would it occur to the girl that any one could be so cruel as to conceal from her all those years the fact that her mother was alive?"
"Then you yourself, monsieur—"
"I knew it from Calabressa."
"Ah, my old friend Calabressa! And he was here, in London, and he saw my Natalie. Perhaps—"
She paused for a second.
"Perhaps it was he who sent the message. I heard—it was only a word or two—that my daughter had found a lover."
She regarded him. She had the same calm fearlessness of look that dwelt in Natalie's eyes.
"You will pardon me, monsieur. Do I guess right? It is to you that my child has given her love?"
"That is my happiness," said he. "I wish I were better worthy of it."
She still regarded him very earnestly, and in silence.
"When I heard," she said, at length, in a low voice, "that my Natalie had given her love to a stranger, my heart sunk. I said, 'More than ever is she away from me now;' and I wondered what the stranger might be like, and whether he would be kind to her. Now that I see you, I am not so sad. There is something in your voice, in your look, that tells me to have confidence in you: you will be kind to Natalie."
She seemed to be thinking aloud: and yet he was not embarrassed by this confession, nor yet by her earnest look; he perceived how all her thoughts were really concentrated on her daughter.
"Her father approves?" said this sad-faced, gray-haired woman.
"Oh no; quite the contrary."
"But he is kind to her?" she said, quickly, and anxiously.
"Oh yes," he answered. "No doubt he is kind to her. Who could be otherwise?"
She had been so agitated at the beginning of this interview that she had allowed her visitor to remain standing. She now asked him to be seated, and took a chair opposite to him. Her nervousness had in a measure disappeared; though at times she clasped the fingers of both hands together, as if to force herself to be composed.
"You will tell me all about it, monsieur; that I may know what to say when I speak to my child at last. Ah, heavens, if you could understand how full my heart is: sixteen years of silence! Think what a mother has to say to her only child after that time! It was cruel—cruel—cruel!"
A little convulsive sob was the only sign of her emotion, and the lingers were clasped together.
"Pardon me, madame," said he, with some hesitation; "but, you see, I do not know the circumstances—"
"You do not know why I dared not speak to my own daughter?" she said, looking up in surprise. "Calabressa did not tell you?"
"No. There were some hints I did not understand."
"Nor of the reasons that forced me to comply with such an inhuman demand? Alas! these reasons exist no longer. I have done my duty to one whose life was sacred to me; now his death has released me from fear; I come to my daughter now. Ah, when I fold her to my heart, what shall I say to her—what but this?—'Natalushka, if your mother has remained away from you all these years, it was not because she did not love you.'"
He drew his chair nearer, and took her hand.
"I perceive that you have suffered, and deeply. But your daughter will make amends to you. She loves you now; you are a saint to her; your portrait is her dearest possession—"
"My portrait?" she said, looking rather bewildered. "Her father has not forbidden her that, then?"
"It was Calabressa who gave it to her quite recently."
She gently withdrew her hand, and glanced at the table, on which two books lay, and sighed.
"The English tongue is so difficult," she said. "And I have so much—so much—to say! I have written out many things that I wish to tell her; and have repeated them, and repeated them; but the sound is not right—the sound is not like what my heart wishes to say to her."
"Reassure yourself, madame, on that point," said he, cheerfully: "I should imagine there is scarcely any language in Europe that your daughter does not know something of. You will not have to speak English to her at all."
She looked up with bright eagerness in her eyes.
"But not Magyar?"
"I do not know for certain," he said, "for I don't know Magyar myself; but I am almost convinced she must know it. She has told me so much about her countrymen that used to come about the house; yes, surely they would speak Magyar."
A strange happy light came into the woman's face; she was communing with herself—perhaps going over mentally some tender phrases, full of the soft vowel sounds of the Magyar tongue.
"That," said she, presently, and in a low voice, "would be my crowning joy. I have thought of what I should say to her in many languages; but always 'My daughter, I love you,' did not have the right sound. In our own tongue it goes to the heart. I am no longer afraid: my girl will understand me."
"I should think," said he, "you will not have to speak much to assure her of your love."
She seemed to become a great deal more cheerful; this matter had evidently been weighing on her mind.
"Meanwhile," she said, "you promised to tell me all about Natalie and yourself. Her father does not approve of your marrying. Well, his reasons?"
"If he has any, he is careful to keep them to himself," he said. "But I can guess at some of them. No doubt he would rather not have Natalie marry; it would deprive him of an excellent house-keeper. Then again—and this is the only reason he does give—he seems to consider it would be inexpedient as regards the work we are all engaged in—"
"You!" she said, with a sudden start. "Are you in the Society also?"
He told her.
"Then you are helpless if he forbids your marriage."
"On the contrary, madame, my marriage or non-marriage has nothing whatever to do with my obedience to the Society."
"He has control over Natalie—"
"Until she is twenty-one," he answered promptly.
"But," she said, regarding him with some apprehension in her eyes, "you do not say—you do not suggest—that the child is opposed to her father—that she thinks of marrying you, when she may legally do so, against his wish?"
"My dear madame," said he, "it will be difficult for you to understand how all this affair rests until you get to know something more about Natalie herself. She is not like other girls. She has courage; she has opinions of her own: when she thinks that such and such a thing is right, she is not afraid to do it, whatever it may be. Now, she believes her father's opposition to be unjust; and—and perhaps there is something else that has influenced her: well, the fact is, I am ordered off to America, and—and the girl has a quick and generous nature, and she at once offered to share what she calls my banishment."
"To leave her father's house!" said the mother, with increasing alarm.
Brand looked at her. He could not understand this expression of anxious concern. If, as he was beginning to assure himself, Lind was the cause of that long and cruel separation between mother and daughter, why should this woman be aghast at the notion of Natalie leaving such a guardian? Or was it merely a superstitious fear of him, similar to that which seemed to possess Calabressa?
"In dealing with your daughter, madame," he continued, "one has to be careful not to take advantage of her forgetfulness of herself. She is too willing to sacrifice herself for others. Now to-day we were talking—as she is not free to marry until she is twenty-one—about her perhaps going over to America under the guardianship of Madame Potecki—"
"She is a friend of your daughter's—almost a mother to her; and I am not sure but that Natalie would willingly do that—more especially under your guardianship, in preference to that of Madame Potecki—"
"Oh no, no!" she exclaimed, instantly. "She must not dare her father like that. Oh, it would be terrible! I hope you will not allow her."
"It is not a question of daring; the girl has courage enough for anything," he said coolly. "The thing is that it would involve too great a sacrifice on her part; and I was exceedingly selfish to think of it for a moment. No; let her remain in her father's house until she is free to act as her own mistress; then, if she will come to me, I shall take care that a proper home is provided for her. She must not be a wanderer and a stranger."
"But even then, when she is free to act, you will not ask her to disobey her father? Oh, it will be too terrible!"
Again he regarded her with amazement.
"What do you mean, madame? What is terrible? Or is it that you are afraid of him? Calabressa spoke like that."
"You do not know of what he is capable," she said, with a sigh.
"All the more reason," he said, directly, "why she should be removed from his guardianship. But permit me to say, madame, that I do not quite share your apprehensions. I have seen nothing of the bogey kind about your husband. Of course, he is a man of strong will, and he does not like to be thwarted: without that strength of character he could not have done what he has done. But he also knows that his daughter is no longer a child, and when the proper time comes you will find that his common sense will lead him to withdraw an opposition which would otherwise be futile. Do I explain myself clearly? My dear madame, have no anxiety about the future of your daughter. When you see herself, when you speak to her, you will find that she is one who is not given to fear."
For a moment the apprehensive look left her face. She remained silent, a happier light coming into her eyes.
"She is not sad and sorrowful, then?" she said, presently.
"Oh no; she is too brave."
"What beautiful hair she has!" said this worn-faced woman with the sad eyes. "Ah, many a time I have said to myself that when I take her to my heart I will feel the beautiful soft hair; I will stroke it; her head will lie on my bosom, and I will gather courage from her eyes: when she laughs my heart will rejoice! I have lived many years in solitude—in secret, with many apprehensions; perhaps I have grown timid and fearful; once I was not so. But I have been troubling myself with fears; I have said, 'Ah, if she looks coldly on me, if she turns away from me, then my heart will break!'"
"I do not think you have much to fear," said he, regarding the beautiful, sad face.
"I have tried to catch the sound of her voice," she continued, absently, and her eyes were filled with tears, "but I could not do that. But I have watched her, and wondered. She does not seem proud and cold."
"She will not be proud or cold to you," he said, "when she is kindness and gentleness to all the world."
"And—and when shall you see her again?" she asked, timidly.
"Now," he said. "If you will permit me, I will go to her at once. I will bring her to you."
"Oh no!" she exclaimed hastily drying her eyes. "Oh no! She must not find a sad mother, who has been crying. She will be repelled. She will think, 'I have enough of sadness.' Oh no, you must let me collect myself: I must be very brave and cheerful when my Natalie comes to me. I must make her laugh, not cry."
"Madame," said he, gravely, "I may have but a few days longer in England: do you think it is wise to put off the opportunity? You see, she must be prepared; it would be a terrible shock if she were to know suddenly. And how can one tell what may happen to-morrow or next day? At the present moment I know she is at home; I could bring her to you directly."
"Just now?" she said; and she began to tremble again. She rose and went to a mirror.
"She could not recognize herself in me. She would not believe me. And I should frighten her with my mourning and my sadness."
"I do not think you need fear, madame."
She turned to him eagerly.
"Perhaps you would explain to her? Ah, would you be so kind! Tell her I have seen much trouble of late. My father has just died, after years of illness; and we were kept in perpetual terror. You will tell her why I dared not go to her before: oh no! not that—not that!"
"You forget, madame, that I myself do not know."
"It is better she should not know—better she should not know!" she said, rapidly. "No, let the girl have confidence in her father while she remains in his house. Perhaps some time she may know; perhaps some one who is a fairer judge than I will tell her the story and make excuses: it must be that there is some excuse."
"She will not want to know; she will only want to come to you."
"But half an hour, give me half an hour," she said, and she glanced round the room. "It is so poor a chamber."
"She will not think of the chamber."
"And the little girl with her—she will remain down-stairs, will she not? I wish to be alone, quite alone, with my child." Her breath came and went quickly, and she clasped her fingers tight. "Oh, monsieur, my heart will break if my child is cold to me!"
"That is the last thing you have to fear," said he, and he rose. "Now calm yourself, madame. Recollect, you must not frighten your daughter. And it will be more than half an hour before I bring her to you; it will take more than that for me to break it to her."
She rose also; but she was obviously so excited that she did not know well what she was doing. All her thoughts were about the forth-coming interview.
"You are sure she understands the Magyar?" she said again.
"No, I do not know. But why not speak in French to her?"
"It does not sound the same—it does not sound the same: and a mother—can only—talk to her child—"
"You must calm yourself, dear madame. Do you know that your daughter believes you to have been a miracle of courage and self-reliance? What Calabressa used to say to her was this: 'Natalushka, when you are in trouble you will be brave; you will show yourself the daughter of Natalie Berezolyi.'"
"Yes, yes," she said, quickly, as she again dried her eyes, and drew herself up. "I beg you to pardon me. I have thought so much of this meeting, through all these years, that my hearts beats too quickly now. But I will have no fear. She will come to me; I am not afraid: she will not turn away from me. And how am I to thank you for your great kindness?" she added, as he moved to the door.
"By being kind to Natalie when I am away in America," said he. "You will not find it a difficult task."
THE VELVET GLOVE.
Ferdinand Lind sat alone, after Gathorne Edwards had gone, apparently deep buried in thought. He leaned forward over his desk, his head resting on his left hand, while in his right hand he held a pencil, with which he was mechanically printing letters on a sheet of blotting-paper before him. These letters, again and again repeated, formed but one phrase: THE VELVET GLOVE. It was as if he were perpetually reminding himself, during the turnings and twistings of his sombre speculations, of the necessity of being prudent and courteous and suave. It was as if he were determined to imprint the caution on his brain—drilling it into himself—so that in no possible emergency could it be forgotten. But as his thoughts went farther afield, he began to play with the letters, as a child might. They began to assume decorations. THE VELVET GLOVE appeared surrounded with stars; again furnished with duplicate lines; again breaking out into rays. At length he rose, tore up the sheet of blotting-paper, and rung a hand-bell twice.
"Where will Beratinsky be this evening?"
"At the Culturverein: he sups there."
"You and he must be here at ten. There is business of importance."
He walked across the room, and took up his hat and stick. Perhaps at this moment the caution he had been drilling into himself suggested some further word. He turned to Reitzei, who had advanced to take his place at the desk.
"I mean if that is quite convenient to you both," he said, courteously. "Eleven o'clock, if you please, or twelve?"
"Ten will be quite convenient," Reitzei said.
"The business will not take long."
"Then we can return to the Culturverein: it is an exhibition night: one would not like to be altogether absent."
These sombre musings had consumed some time. When Lind went out he found it had grown dark; the lamps were lit; the stream of life was flowing westward. But he seemed in no great hurry. He chose unfrequented streets; he walked slowly; there was less of the customary spring and jauntiness of his gait. In about half an hour he had reached the door of Madame Potecki's house.
He stood for some seconds there without ringing. Then, as some one approached, he seemed waken out of a trance. He rung sharply, and the summons was almost immediately answered.
Madame Potecki was at home, he learned, but she was dining.
"Never mind," said he, abruptly: "she will see me. Go and ask her."
A couple of minutes thereafter he was shown into a small parlor, where Madame Potecki had just risen to receive him; and by this time a singular change had come over his manner.
"I beg your pardon—I beg a thousand pardons, my dear Madame Potecki," said he, in the kindest way, "for having interrupted you. Pray continue. I shall make sure you forgive me only if you continue. Ah, that is well. Now I will take a chair also."
Madame Potecki had again seated herself, certainly; but she was far too much agitated by this unexpected visit to be able to go on with her repast. She was alarmed about Natalie.
"You are surprised, no doubt, at my coming to see you," said he, cheerfully and carelessly, "so soon after you were kind enough to call on me. But it is only about a trifle; I assure you, my dear Madame Potecki, it is only about a trifle, and I must therefore insist on your not allowing your dinner to get cold."
"But if it is about Natalie—"
"My dear madame, Natalie is very well. There is nothing to alarm you. Now you will go on with your dinner, and I will go on with my talking."
Thus constrained, madame again addressed herself to the small banquet spread before her, which consisted of a couple of sausages, some pickled endive, a piece of Camembert cheese, and a tiny bottle of Erlauer. Mr. Lind turned his chair to the fire, put his feet on the fender, and lay back. He was rather smartly dressed this evening, and he was pleasant in manner.
"Natalie ought to be grateful to you, madame," said he lightly, "for your solicitude about her. It is not often one finds that in one who is not related by blood."
"I have no one now left in the world to love but herself," said madame; "and then you see, my dear friend Lind, her position appeals to one: it is sad that she has no mother."
"Yes, yes," said Lind, with a trifle of impatience. "Now you were good enough to come and tell me this afternoon, madame, about that foolish little romance that Natalie has got into her head. It was kind of you; it was well-intentioned. And after all, although that wish of hers to go to America can scarcely be serious, it is but natural that romantic ideas should get into the head of a younger girl—"
"Did not I say that to her?" exclaimed Madame Potecki, eagerly; "and almost in these words too. And did not I say to her, 'Ah, my child, you must take care; you must take care!'"
"That also was good advice," said Lind, courteously; "and no doubt Natalie laid it to her heart. No, I am not afraid of her doing anything very wild or reckless. She is sensible; she thinks; she has not been brought up in an atmosphere of sentiment. One may say this or that on the spur of the moment, when one is excited; but when it comes to action, one reasons, one sees what one's duty is. Natalie may have said something to you, madame, about going to America, but not with any serious intention, believe me."
"Perhaps not," said Madame Potecki, with considerable hesitation.
"Very well, then," said Mr. Lind, as he rose, and stood before the chimney-piece mirror, and arranged the ends of his gracefully tied neckerchief. "We come to another point. It was very kind of you, my dear madame, to bring me the news—to tell me something of that sort had been said; but you know what ill-natured people will remark. You get no appreciation. They call you tale-bearer!"
Madame colored slightly.
"It is ungenerous; it is not a fair requital of kindness; but that is what is said," he continued. "Now, I should not like any friend of Natalie's to incur such a charge on her account, do you perceive, madame? And, in these circumstances, do you not think that it would be better for both you and me to consider that you did not visit me this afternoon; that I know nothing of what idle foolishness Natalie has been talking? Would not that be better? As for me, I am dumb."
"Oh, very well, my dear friend," said madame, quickly. "I would not for the world have Natalie or any one think that I was a mischief-maker—oh no! And did I not promise to you that I should say nothing of my having called on you to-day? It is already a promise."
He turned round and regarded her.
"Precisely so," he said. "You did promise; it was kind of you; and for myself, you may rely on my discretion. Your calling on me—what you repeated to me—all that is obliterated: you understand?"
Madame Potecki understood that very well: but she could not quite make out why he should have come to her this evening, apparently with no object beyond that of reminding her of her promise to say nothing of her visit to Lisle Street.
He lifted his hat from an adjacent chair.
"Now I will leave you to finish your dinner in quiet. You forgive me for interrupting you, do you not? And you will remember, I am sure, not to mention to any one about your having called on me to-day? As for me, it is all wiped out: I know nothing. Adieu, and thanks."
He shook hands with her in a very friendly manner, and then left, saying he could open the outer door for himself.
He got home in time for dinner: he and Natalie dined together, and he was particularly kind to her; he talked in Magyar, which was his custom when he wished to be friendly and affectionate; he made no reference to George Brand whatsoever.
"Natalie," said he, casually, "it was not fair that you were deprived of a holiday this year. You know the reason—there were too many important things going forward. But it is not yet too late. You must think about it—think where you would like to go for two or three weeks."
She did not answer. It was on that morning that she had placed her written offer in her lover's hands; so far there had been no reply from him.
"And Madame Potecki," her father continued; "she is not very rich; she has but little change. Why not take her with you instead of Anneli?"
"I should like to take her away for a time," said the girl, in a low voice. "She lives a monotonous life; but she has always her pupils."
"Some arrangement could be made with them, surely," her father said, lightly; and then he added, "Paris is always the safest place to go to when one is in doubt. There you are independent of the weather; there are so many things to see and to do if it rains. Will you think of it, Natalushka?"
"Yes, papa," she said, though she felt rather guilty. But she was so grateful to have her father talk to her in this friendly way again, after the days of estrangement that had passed, that she could not but pretend to fall in with his schemes.
"And I will tell you another thing," said Mr. Lind. "I intend to buy you some furs, Natalie, for the winter. These we will get in Paris."
"I am too much of an expense to you already, papa."
"You forget," said he, with mock gravity, "that you give me your invaluable services as house-keeper, and that so far you have received no salary."
There was a knock at the outer door.
"Is it nine o'clock already?" he said, in an altered tone.
"Whom do you expect, papa?"
"Then I will send you in coffee to the study."
But presently Anneli came into the room.
"Pardon, Fraulein, but the gentleman wishes to see you for one minute."
"Let him come in here, then."
Edwards came in, and shook hands with Natalie in an embarrassed manner. Then he produced a little packet.
"I have a commission, Miss Lind. It is from Signor Calabressa. He sends you this necklace, and says I am to tell you that he thinks of you always."
The message had been in reality that Calabressa "thought of her and loved her always." But Edwards was a shy person, and did not like to pronounce the word "love" to this beautiful girl, who regarded him with such proud, frank eyes.
"He has not returned with you, then?"
"But you can send him a message?"
"I will when I hear of his address."
"Then you will tell him—will you be so kind?—that the little Natalushka—that is myself," she said, smiling; "you will tell him that the little Natalushka thanks him, and is not likely to forget him."
The interview between the new visitor and Mr. Lind was speedily got over. Lind excused himself for giving Edwards the trouble of this second appointment by saying he had been much engrossed with serious business during the day. There was, indeed, little new to be communicated about the Kirski and Calabressa escapade, though Edwards repeated the details as minutely as possible. He accepted a cigar, and left.
Then Lind got his overcoat and hat and went out of the house. A hansom took him along to Lisle Street: he arrived there just as ten was striking.
There were two men at the door; they were Beratinsky and Reitzei. All three entered and went up the narrow stair in the dark, for the old German had gone. There was some fumbling for matches on the landing; then a light was procured, and the gas lit in the central room. Mr. Lind sat down at his desk; the other two drew in chairs. The whole house was intently silent.
"I am sorry to take you away from your amusements," said he, civilly enough; "but you will soon be able to return to them. The matter is of importance. Edwards has returned."
Both men nodded; Reitzei had, in fact, informed his companion.
"As I anticipated, Calabressa's absurd proposal has been rejected, if not even scoffed at. Now, this affair must not be played with any longer. The Council has charged us, the English section, with a certain duty; we must set about having it performed at once."
"There is a year's grace," Beratinsky observed, but Lind interrupted him curtly.
"There may be a year's grace or less allowed to the infamous priest; there is none allowed to us. We must have our agent ready. Why, man, do you think a thing like that can be done off-hand, without long and elaborate planning?"
Beratinsky was silenced.
"Are we to have the Council think that we are playing with them? And that was not the only thing in connection with the Calabressa scheme which you, Reitzei, were the first to advocate. Every additional person whom you let into the secret is a possible weak point in the carrying out of the design; do you perceive that? And you had to let this man Edwards into it."
"But he is safe."
"Safe? Yes; because he knows his own life would not be worth a half-franc piece if he betrayed a Council secret. However, that is over: no more about it. We must show the Council that we can act and promptly."
There was silence for a second or two.
"I have no need to wait for the further instructions of the Council," Lind resumed. "I know what they intend. They intend to make it clear to all Europe that this is not a Camorra act of vengeance. The Starving Cardinal has thousands of enemies; the people curse and groan at him; if he were stabbed by an Italian, 'Oh, another of those Camorristi wretches!' would be the cry. The agent must come from England, and, if he is taken red-handed, then let him say if he likes that he is connected with an association which knows how to reach evil-doers who are beyond the ordinary reach of the law; but let him make it clear that it is no Camorra affair: you understand?"
"Yes, yes," said both men.
"Now you know what the Council have ordained," continued Lind, calmly, "that no agent shall be appointed to undertake any service involving immediate peril to life without a ballot among at least four persons. It was absurd of Calabressa to imagine that they would abrogate their own decree, merely because that Russian madman was ready for anything. Well, it is not expedient that this secret should be confided to many. It is known to four persons in this country. We are three of the four."
The two men started.
"Yes," he said boldly, and he regarded each of them in turn. "That is my proposal: that we ourselves form three of the ballot of four. The fourth must be an Englishman."
"Edwards?" said Beratinsky. Reitzei was thinking too much of his own position to speak.
"No," said Lind, calmly playing with his pencil, "Edwards is a man of books, not of action. I have been thinking that the fourth ought to be—George Brand."
He watched them both. Reitzei was still preoccupied; but the small black eyes of Beratinsky twinkled eagerly.
"Yes, yes, yes! Very good! There we have our four. For myself, I am not afraid; not I!"
"And you, Reitzei; are you satisfied?" said Lind merely as a matter of form.
The younger man started.
"Oh yes, the Council must be obeyed," said he, absently.
"Gentlemen," said Lind, rising, "the business is concluded. Now you may return to your Culturverein."
But when the others had risen, he said, in a laughing way, "There is only one thing I will add: you may think about it at your leisure. The chances are three to one, and we all run the same risk; but I confess I should not be sorry to see the Englishman chosen; for, you perceive, that would make the matter clear enough. They would not accuse an Englishman of complicity with the Camorra—would they, Reitzei? If the lot fell to the Englishman, I should not be disappointed—would you, Beratinsky?"
Beratinsky, who was about to leave, turned sharply and the coal-black eyes were fixed intently on Lind's face.
"I?" he said. "Not I! We will talk again about it, Brother Lind."
Reitzei opened the door, Lind screwed out the gas, and then the three men descended the wooden staircase, their footsteps sounding through the silent house.
To save time Brand jumped into a hansom and drove down to Curzon Street. He was too much preoccupied to remember that Natalie had wished him not to come to the house. Anneli admitted him, and showed him up-stairs into the drawing-room. In a couple of seconds or so Natalie herself appeared.
"Well," said she lightly, "you have come to tell me about Santa Claus? You have discovered the mysterious messenger?"
She shut the door and went forward to him.
"What is the matter?" she said, quickly: there was something in his look that alarmed her.
He caught both her hands in his, and held them tight.
"Nothing to frighten you, at all events," said he: "no, Natalie I have good news for you. Only—only—you must be brave."
It was he who was afraid; he did not know how to begin.
"That locket there," said he, regarding the little silver trinket. "Have you ever thought about it?—why do you wear it?"
"Why do I wear it?" she said, simply. "Because one day that Calabressa was talking to me it occurred to me that the locket might have belonged to my mother, and that some one had wished to give it to me. He did not say it was impossible. It was his talk of Natalie and Natalushka that put it in my head; perhaps it was a stupid fancy."
"Natalie, the locket did belong to your mother."
"Ah, you know, then?" she said, quickly, but with nothing beyond a bright and eager interest. "You have seen that lady? Well, what does she say?—was she angry that you followed her? Did you thank her for me for all those presents of flowers?"
"Natalie," said he almost in despair, "have you never thought about it—about the locket? Have you never thought of what might be possible?"
"I do not understand you," she said, with a bewildered air. "What is it? why do you not speak?"
"Because I am afraid. See, I hold your hands tight because I am afraid. And yet it is good news: your heart will be filled with joy; your life will be quite different from to-day ever after. Natalie, cannot you imagine for yourself—something beautiful happening to you—something you may have dreamed of—"
She became a little pale, but she maintained her calmness.
"Dearest," said she, "why are you afraid to tell me. You hold my hands: do they tremble?"
"But, Natalie, think!" he said. "Think of the locket; it was given you by one who loved you—who has loved you all these years—and been kept away from you—and now she is waiting for you."
He studied her face intently: there was nothing there but a vague bewilderment. He grew more and more to fear the effect of the shock.
"Yes, yes. Can you not think, now, if it were possible that one whom you have always thought to be dead—whom you have loved all through your life—if it were she herself—"
She withdrew her hands from his, and caught the back of a chair. She was ghastly pale; for a second she did not speak.
"You will kill me—if it is not true," she said, in a low voice, and still staring at him with frightened, bewildered eyes.
"Natalie, it is true," said he, stepping forward to catch her by the arm, for he thought she was going to fall.
She sunk into a chair, and covered her face with her hands—not to cry, but to think. She had to reverse the belief of a lifetime in a second.
But suddenly she started up, her face still white, her lips firm.
"Take me to her; I must see her; I will go at once."
"You shall not," he said, promptly; but he himself was beginning to breathe more freely. "I will not allow you to see her until you are perfectly calm."
He put his hand on her arm gently.
"Natalie," said he, "you must calm yourself—for her sake. She has been suffering; she is weak; any wild scene would do her harm. You must calm yourself, my darling; you must be the braver of the two; you must show yourself very strong—for her sake."
"I am quite calm," she said, with pale lips. She put her left hand over her heart. "It is only my heart that beats so."
"Well, in a little while—"
"Now—now!" she pleaded, almost wildly. "I must see her. When I try to think of it, it is like to drive me mad; I cannot think at all. Let us go!"
"You must think," he said firmly; "you must think of what you are going to say; and your dress, too. Natalie, you must take that piece of scarlet ribbon away; one who is nearly related to you has just died."
She tore it off instantly.
"And you know Magyar, don't you, Natalie?"
"Oh yes, yes."
"Because your mother has been learning English in order to be able to speak to you."
Again she placed her hand over her heart, and there was a look of pain on her face.
"My dearest, let us go! I can bear no more: my heart will break! See, am I not calm enough? Do I tremble?"
"No, you are very courageous," he said, looking at her doubtfully.
"Let us go!—let us go!"
Her entreaties overcame his scruples. The things she had thrown aside on coming in from her morning walk still lay there; she hastily put them on; and she herself led the way down-stairs. He put her into the hansom, and followed; the man drove off. She held her lover's hand tight, as a sign of her gratitude.
"Mind, I depend on you, Natalie," he said.
"Oh, do not fear," she said, rather wildly; "why should one fear? It seems to me all a strange sort of dream; and I shall waken out of it by-and-by, and go back to the house. Why should I be surprised to see her, when she is my constant companion? And do you think I shall not know what to say?—I have talked to her all my life."
But when they had reached the house, and were admitted, this half-hysterical courage had fled.
"One moment, dearest; give me one moment," she said, at the foot of the stairs, as if her breath failed her, and she put her hand on his arm.
"Now, Natalie," he whispered, "you must think of your mother as an invalid—not to be excited, you understand; there is to be no scene."
"Yes, yes," she said, but she scarcely heard him.
"Now go," he said, "and I will wait here."
"No, I wish you to come," she said.
"You ought to be alone with her."
"I wish you to come," she repeated; and she took his hand.
They went up-stairs; the door was wide open; a figure stood in the middle of the room. Natalie entered first; she was very white, that was all. It was the other woman who was trembling—trembling with anxious fears, and forgetful of every one of the English phrases she had learned.
The girl at the door hesitated but for a moment. Breathless, wondering, she beheld this vision—worn as the face was, she recognized in it the features she had learned to love; and there were the dark and tender eyes she had so often held commune with when she was alone. It was only because she was so startled that she thus hesitated; the next instant she was in her mother's arms held tight there, her head against her bosom.
Then the mother began, in her despair,
"My—my daughter—you—do—know me?"
But the girl, not looking up, murmured some few words in a language Brand did not understand; and at the sound of them the mother uttered a wild cry of joy, and drew her daughter closer to her, and laid her streaming, worn, sad face on the beautiful hair. They spoke together in that tongue; the sounds were soft and tender to the ear; perhaps it was the yearning of love that made them so.
Then Natalie remembered her promise. She gently released herself; she led her mother to a sofa, and made her sit down; she threw herself on her knees beside her, and kissed her hand; then she buried her head in her mother's lap. She sobbed once or twice; she was determined not to give way to tears. And the mother stroked the soft hair of the girl, which she could hardly see, for her eyes were full; and from time to time she spoke to her in those gentle, trembling tones, bending over her and speaking close to her ear. The girl was silent; perhaps afraid to awake from a dream.
"Natalie," said George Brand.
She sprung to her feet.
"Oh, I beg your pardon—I beg your pardon!" she said, hurriedly. "I had forgotten—"
"No, you have not forgotten," he said, with a smile. "You have remembered; you have behaved well. Now that I have seen you through it, I am going; you ought to be by yourselves."
"Oh no!" she said, in a bewildered way. "Without you I am useless: I cannot think. I should go on talking and talking to my mother all day, all night—because—because my heart is full. But—but one must do something. Why is she here? She will come home with me—now!"
"Natalie," said he, gravely, "you must not even mention such a thing to her: it would pain her. Can you not see that there are sufficient reasons why she should not go, when she has not been under your father's roof for sixteen years?"
"And why has my father never told me?" the girl said, breathlessly.
"I cannot say."
She thought for a moment; but she was too excited to follow out any train of thinking.
"Ah," she said, "what matter? I have found a great treasure. And you, you shall not go: it will be we three together now. Come!"
She took his hand; she turned to her mother; her face flushed with shyness. She said something, her eyes turned to the ground, in that soft musical language he did not understand.
"I know, my child," the mother answered in French, and she laughed lightly despite her wet eyes. "Do you think one cannot see?—and I have been following you like a spy!"
"Ah, then," said the girl, in the same tongue, "do you see what lies they tell? They say when the mother comes near her child, the heart of the child knows and recognizes her. It is not true! it is not true!—or perhaps one has a colder heart than the others. You have been near to me, mother; I have watched, as you went away crying, and all I said was, 'Ah, the poor lady, I am sorry for her!' I had no more pity for you than Anneli had. Anneli used to say, 'Perhaps, fraulein, she has lost some one who resembles you.'"
"I had lost you—I had lost you," the mother said, drawing the girl toward her again. "But now I have found you again, Natalushka. I thank God for his goodness to me. I said to myself, 'If my child turns away from me, I will die!' and I thought that if you had any portrait of me, it would be taken when I was young, and you would not care for an old woman grown haggard and plain—"
"Oh, do you think it is for smooth portraits that I care?" the girl said, impetuously. She drew out from some concealed pocket a small case, and opened it. "Do you think it is for smooth faces one cares? There—I will never look at it again!"
She threw it on to the table with a proud gesture.
"But you had it next your heart, Natalushka," said her mother, smiling.
"But I have you in my heart, mother: what do I want with a portrait?" said the girl.
She drew her daughter down to her again, and put her arm once more round her neck.
"I once had hair like yours, Natalushka, but not so beautiful as yours, I think. And you wore the locket, too? Did not that make you guess? Had you no suspicion?"
"How could I—how could I?" she asked. "Even when I showed it to Calabressa—"
Here she stopped suddenly.
"Did he know, mother?"
"Then why did he not tell me? Oh, it was cruel!" she said, indignantly.
"He told me, Natalie," George Brand said.
"You knew?" the girl said, turning to him with wide eyes.
"Yes; and Calabressa, when he told me, implored me never to tell you. Well, perhaps he thought it would give you needless pain. But I was thinking, within the last few days, that I ought to tell you before I left for America."
"Do you hear, mother?" the girl said, in a low voice. "He is going away to America—and alone. I wished to go; he refuses."
"Now I am going away much more contented, Natalie, since you will have a constant companion with you. I presume, madame, you will remain in England?"
The elder woman looked up with rather a frightened air.
"Alas, monsieur, I do not know! When at last I found myself free—when I knew I could come and speak to my child—that was all I thought of."
"But you wish to remain in England: is it not so?"
"What have I in the world now but this beautiful child—whose heart is not cold, though her mother comes so late to claim her?"
"Then be satisfied, madame. It is simple. No one can interfere with you. But I will provide you, if you will allow me, with better lodgings than these. I have a few days' idleness still before me."
"That is his way, mother," Natalie said, in a still lower voice. "It is always about others he is thinking—how to do one a kindness."
"I presume," he said, in quite a matter-of-fact way, "that you do not wish your being in London to become known?"
She looked up timidly, but in truth she could hardly take her attention away from this newly-found daughter of hers for a single second. She still continued stroking the soft hair and rounded cheek as she said,
"If that is possible."
"It would not be long possible in an open thoroughfare like this," he said; "But I think I could find you a small old-fashioned house down about Brompton, with a garden and a high wall. I have passed such places occasionally. There Natalie could come to see you, and walk with you. There is another thing," he said, in a matter-of-fact way, taking out his watch. "It is now nearly two o'clock. Now, dear madame, Natalie is in the habit of having luncheon at one. You would not like to see your child starve before your eyes?"
The elder woman rose instantly; then she colored somewhat.
"No doubt you did not expect visitors," George Brand said, quickly. "Well, what do you say to this? Let us get into a four-wheeled cab, and drive down to my chambers. I have an indefatigable fellow, who could get something for us in the desert of Saharra."
"What do you say, child?"
Natalie had risen too: she was regarding her mother with earnest eyes, and not thinking much about luncheon.
"I will do whatever you wish," she was saying: but suddenly she cried, "Oh, I am indeed so happy!" and flung her arms round her mother's neck, and burst into a flood of tears for the first time. She had struggled long; but she had broken down at last.
"Natalie," said George Brand, pretending to be very anxious about the time, "could you get your mother's things for her? I think we shall be down there by a quarter past two."
She turned to him with her streaming eyes.
"Yes, we will go with you. Do not let us be separated."
"Then look sharp," said he, severely.
Natalie took her mother into the adjoining room. Brand, standing at the window, succeeded in catching the eye of a cab-man, whom he signaled to come to the door below. Presently the two women appeared.
"Now," he said, "Miss Natalie, there is to be no more crying."
"Oh no!" she said, smiling quite radiantly. "And I am so anxious to see the rooms—I have heard so much of them from Lord Evelyn."
She said nothing further then, for she was passing before him on her way out. In doing so, she managed, unseen, to pick up the miniature she had thrown on the table. She had made believe to despise that portrait very much; but all the same, as they went down the dark staircase, she conveyed it back to the secret little pocket she had made for it—next her heart.
"Mother," said the girl, in the soft-sounding Magyar, as these two were together going down-stairs, "give me your hand; let me hold it tight, to make sure. All the way here I kept terrifying myself by thinking it must be a dream; that I should wake, and find the world empty without you, just as before. But now—now with your hand in mine, I am sure."
"Natalushka, you can hear me speak also. Ghosts do not speak like this, do they?"
Brand had preceded them to open the door. As Natalie was passing him she paused for a second, and regarded him with the beautiful, tender, dark eyes.
"I am not likely to forget what I owe to you," she said in English.
He followed them into the cab.
"What you owe to me?" he said, lightly. "You owe me nothing at all. But if you wish to do me a good turn, you may pretend to be pleased with whatever old Waters can get together for you. The poor old fellow will be in a dreadful state. To entertain two ladies, and not a moment of warning! However, we will show you the river, and the boats and things, and give him a few minutes' grace."
Indeed, it was entirely as a sort of harmless frolic that he chose to regard this present excursion of theirs. He was afraid of the effect of excessive emotion on this worn woman, and he was anxious that she should see her daughter cheerful and happy. He would not have them think of any future; above all, he would have nothing said about himself or America; it was all an affair of the moment—the joyous re-union of mother and daughter—a pleasant morning with London all busy and astir—the only serious thing in the whole world the possible anxieties and struggles of the venerable major-domo in Buckingham Street.
He had not much difficulty in entertaining these two guests of his on their way down. They professed to be greatly interested in the history and antiquities of the old-fashioned little thoroughfare over the river; arrived there, they regarded with much apparent curiosity the houses pointed out to them as having been the abode of illustrious personages: they examined the old water gate; and, in ascending the oak staircase, they heard of painted ceilings and what not with a deep and respectful attention. But always these two had each other's hand clasped tight, and occasionally Natalie murmured a little snatch of Magyar. It was only to make sure, she explained.
Before they reached the topmost story they heard a considerable noise overhead. It was a one-sided altercation; broken and piteous on the one hand, voluble and angry on the other.
"It sounds as if Waters were having a row with the man in possession," Brand said.
They drew nearer.
"Why, Natalie, it is your friend Kirski!"
Brand was following his two guests up-stairs; and so could not interfere between the two combatants before they arrived. But the moment that Natalie appeared on the landing there was a dead silence. Kirski shrunk back with a slight exclamation, and stood looking from one to the other with a frightened air. She advanced to him and asked him what was the matter, in his native tongue. He shrunk farther back. The man could not or would not speak. He murmured something to himself, and stared at her as if she were a spectre.
"He has got a letter for you, sir," Waters said; "I have seen the address; and he will neither leave it nor take it. And as for what he has been trying to say, Lord A'mighty knows what it is—I don't."
"Very well—all right," Brand said. "You leave him to us. Cut away and get some luncheon—whatever you can find—at once."
But Natalie had gone nearer to the Russian, and was talking to him in that fearless, gentle way of hers. By-and-by he spoke, in an uncertain, almost gasping voice. Then he showed her a letter; and, in obedience to something she said, went timidly forward and placed it in Brand's hand.
"A Monsieur, M. George Brand, Esq., Londres."
This was the superscription; and Brand recognized the handwriting easily enough.
"The letter is from Calabressa," he said obviously. "Tell him not to be alarmed. We shall not eat him, however hungry we may be."
Kirski had recovered himself somewhat, and was speaking eagerly to her, in a timid, anxious, imploring fashion. She listened in silence; but she was clearly somewhat embarrassed, and when she turned to her lover there was some flush of color on her face.
"He talks some wild things," she said, "and some foolish things; but he means no harm. I am sorry for the poor man. He is afraid you are angry with him; he says he promised never to try to see me; that he would not have come if he had known. I have told him you are not angry; that it is not his fault; that you will show that you are not angry."
But first of all Brand ushered his guests into the long, low-roofed chamber, and drew the portieres across the middle, so that Waters might have an apartment for his luncheon preparations. Then he opened the letter. Kirski remained at the door, with his cap in his hand.
* * * * *
"My much-esteemed friend,"—Calabressa wrote, in his ornate, ungrammatical, and phonetic French—"the poor devil who is the bearer of this letter is known to you, and yet not altogether known to you. You know something of his conversion from a wild beast into a man—from the tiger into a devotee; but you do not, my friend, perhaps entirely know how his life has become absorbed in one worship, one aspiration, one desire. The means of the conversion, the instrument, you know, have I not myself before described it to you? The harassed and bleeding heart, crushed with scorn and filled with despair—how can a man live with that in his bosom? He wishes to die. The world has been too cruel to him. But all at once an angel appears; into the ruins of the wasted life a seed of kindness is dropped, and then behold the beautiful flower of love springing up—love that becomes a worship, a religion! Yes, I have said so much before to you; now I say more; now I entreat you not to check this beautiful worship—it is sacred. This man goes round the churches; he stands before the pictures of the saints; he wanders on unsatisfied: he says there is no saint like the beautiful one in England, who healed him with her soft words when he was sick to death. But now, my dear Monsieur Brand, I hear you say to yourself, 'What is my friend Calabressa after now? Has he taken to the writings of pious sermons? Is he about to shave his head and put a rope round his waist? My faith, that is not like that fellow Calabressa!' You are right, my friend. I describe the creation of the devotee; it is a piece of poetry, as one might say. But your devotee must have his amulet; is it not so? This is the meaning and prayer of my letter to you. The bearer of it was willing to do us a great service; perhaps—if one must confess it—he believed it was on behalf of the beautiful Natalushka and her father that he was to undertake the duty that now devolves on some other. One must practice a little finesse sometimes; what harm is there? Very well. Do you know what he seeks by way of reward—what he considers the most valuable thing in the world? It is a portrait of his saint, you understand? That is the amulet the devotee would have. And I do not further wish to write to her; no, because she would say, 'What, that is a little matter to do for my friend Calabressa.' No; I write to you—I write to one who has knowledge of affairs—and I say to myself, 'If he considers it prudent, then he will ask the beautiful child to give her portrait to this one who will worship it.' I have declared to him that I will make the request; I make it. Do not consider it a trifling matter; it is not to him; it is the crown of his existence. And if he says, 'Do you see, this is what I am ready to do for her—I will give my life if she or her friends wish it;' then I say—I, Calabressa—that a portrait at one shilling, two shillings, ten shillings, is not so very much in return. Now, my dear friend, you will consider the prudence of granting his request and mine. I believe in his faithfulness. If you say to him, 'The beautiful lady who was kind to you wishes you to do this or do that; or wishes you never to part with this portrait; or wishes you to keep silence on this or on that,' you may depend on him. I say so. Adieu! Say to the little one that there is some one who does not forget her. Perhaps you will never hear from Calabressa again: remember him not as a madcap, but as one who wishes you well. To-morrow I start for Cyprus—then farther—with a light heart. Adieu!
* * * * *
He handed the letter to Natalie's mother. The elder woman read the letter carefully. She laughed quietly; but there were tears in her eyes.
"It is like my old friend Calabressa," she said. "Natalushka, they want you to give your portrait to this poor creature who adores you. Why not? Calabressa says he will do whatever you tell him. Tell him, then, not to part with it; not to show it to any one, and not to say to any one he has seen either you or me here. Is not that simple? Tell him to come here to-morrow or next day; you can send the photograph to Mr. Brand."
The girl went to the door, and said a few words to Kirski. He said nothing in reply, but sunk on his knees, as he had done in Curzon Street, and took her hand and kissed it; then he rose, and bowed respectfully to the others, and left.
Presently Waters came in and announced that luncheon was on the table; the portieres were drawn aside; they passed into the farther end of the apartment, and sat down. The banquet was not a sumptuous one, and there were no flowers on the table; but it was everything that any human being could have done in fifteen minutes; and these were bachelors' rooms. Natalie took care to make a pretty speech in the hearing of Mr. Waters.
"Yes, but you eat nothing," the host said. "Do you think your mother will have anything if she sees you indifferent?"
Presently the mother, who seemed to be much amused with something or other, said in French,
"Ah, my friend, I did not think my child would be so deceitful. I did not think she would deceive you."
The girl stared with wide eyes.
"She pretended to tell you what this poor man said to her," said the mother, with a quiet smile. "She forgot that some one else than herself might know Russian."
Natalie flushed red.
"Mother!" she remonstrated. "I said he had spoken a lot of foolish things."
"After all," said the mother, "he said no more than what Calabressa says in the letter. You have been kind to him; he regards you as an angel; he will give you his life; you, or any one whom you love. The poor man! Did you see how he trembled?"
Natalie turned to George Brand.
"He said something more than that," said she. "He said he had undertaken some duty, some service, that was expected to have cost him his life. He did not know what it was: do you?"
"I do not," said he, answering frankly the honest look of her eyes. "I can scarcely believe any one was foolish enough to think of intrusting any serious duty to a man like that. But still Calabressa hints as much; and I know he left England with Calabressa."
"Natalushka," the mother said, cautiously, and yet with an anxious scrutiny, "I have often wondered—whether you knew much—much about the Society."
"Oh no, mother! I am allowed to translate, and sometimes I hear that help is to be given here or there; but I am in no secrets at all. That is my misfortune."
The mother seemed much relieved.
"It is not a misfortune, child. You are happier as you are, I think. Then," she added, with a quick glance, "you have never heard of one—Bartolotti?"
"No," she answered; but directly afterwards she exclaimed, "Oh yes, yes! Bartolotti, that is the name Calabressa gave me. He said if ever I was in very serious trouble, I was to go to Naples; and that was the password. But I thought to myself, 'If I am in trouble, why should I not go to my own father?'"
The mother rose and went to the girl, and put her arm round her daughter's neck, and stooped down.
"Natalushka," said she, earnestly, "you are wiser than Calabressa. If you are in trouble, do not seek any help that way. Go to your father."
"And to you, mother," said she, drawing down the worn, beautiful face and kissing it. "Why not to you also? Why not to you both?"
The mother smiled, and patted the girl's head, and then returned to the other side of the table. Waters brought in some fruit, fresh from Covent Garden.
He also brought in a letter, which he put beside his master's plate. Brand did not even look at it; he pushed it aside, to give him more room. But in pushing it aside he turned it somewhat and Natalie's eye happening to fall on the address, she perceived at once that it was in the handwriting of her father.
"Dearest," said she, in a low voice, and rather breathlessly, "the letter is from papa."
"From your father?" said he, without any great concern. Then he turned to Natalie's mother. "Will you excuse me? My friends are determined to remind me of their existence to-day."
But this letter was much shorter than Calabressa's, though it was friendly enough.
"My Dear Mr. Brand," it ran,—"I am glad to hear that you acted with so much promptitude that your preparations for departure are nearly complete. You are soldier-like. I have less scruples, therefore, in asking you to be so kind as to give me up to-morrow evening from half-past nine onward, for the consideration of a very serious order that has been transmitted to us from the Council. You will perceive that this claims precedence over any of our local arrangements; and as it may even involve the abandonment of your voyage to America, it will be advisable to give it immediate consideration. I trust the hour of half-past nine will not interfere with any engagement.
"Your colleague and friend, Ferdinand Lind."
This was all that an ordinary reader would have seen in the letter; but Brand observed also, down at the left-hand corner, a small mark in green color. That tiny arrow, with the two dots—the whole almost invisible—changed the letter from an invitation into a command. It signified "On business of the Council."
He laid down the letter, and said lightly to Natalie,
"Now I have some news for you. I may not have to go to America after all."
"You are not going to America?" she said, in a bewildered way. "Oh, if it were possible—if it were possible!" she murmured, "I would say I was too happy. God is too good to me—to have them both given back to me in one day—both of them in one day—"
"Natalie," said he, gently, "it is only a possibility, you know."
"But it is possible!" she said; and there was a quick, strange, happy light in her face. "It is possible, is it not?"
Then she glanced at her mother; and her face, that had been somewhat pale, was pale no longer; the blood mounted to her forehead; her eyes were downcast.
"It would please you, would it not?" she said, somewhat formally and in a low and timid voice. The mother, unobserved, smiled.
"Oh yes," he said, cheerfully. "But even if I go to America, expect your mother and you to be arriving at Sandy Hook; and what then? In a couple of years—it is not a long time—I should have a small steamer there to meet you, and we could sail up the bay together."
Luncheon over, they went to the window, and greatly admired the view of the gardens below and the wide river beyond; and they went round the room examining the water-colors, and bits of embroidery, and knickknacks brought from many lands, and they were much interested in one or two portraits. Altogether they were charmed with the place, though the elder lady said, in her pretty, careful French, that it was clear no woman's hand was about, otherwise there would have been white curtains at the windows besides those heavy straight folds of red. Brand said he preferred to have plenty of light in the room; and, in fact, at this moment the sunlight was painting squares of beautiful color on the faded old Turkey-carpet. All this time Natalie had shown much reserve.
When the mother and daughter were in the cab together going to Edgware Road—George Brand was off by himself to Brompton—the mother said,
"Natalushka, why was your manner so changed to Mr. Brand, after you heard he might not be going to America?"
The girl hesitated for a moment, and her eyes were lowered.
"You see, mother," she said, with some embarrassment, "when one is in great trouble and difficulty—and when you wish to show sympathy—then, perhaps, you speak too plainly. You do not think of choosing very prudent words; your heart speaks for you; and one may say things that a girl should not be too ready to confess. That is when there is great trouble, and you are grieved for some one. But—but—when the trouble goes away—when it is all likely to come right—one remembers—"
The explanation was rather stammering and confused.
"But at least, mother," she added, with her eyes still downcast, "at least I can be frank with you. There is no harm in my telling you that I love you."
The mother pressed the hand that she held in hers.
"And if you tell me often enough, Natalushka, perhaps I shall begin to believe you."
A NEW HOME.
George Brand set out house-hunting with two exceptional circumstances in his favor: he knew precisely what he wanted, and he was prepared to pay for it. Moreover, he undertook the task willingly and cheerfully. It was something to do. It would fill in a portion of that period of suspense. It would prevent his harassing himself with speculations as to his own future—speculations which were obviously useless until he should learn what was required of him by the Council.
But none the less was he doomed to the house-hunter's inevitable disappointment. He found, in the course of his devious wanderings through all sorts of out-of-the way thoroughfares within a certain radius from Brompton Church, that the houses which came nearest to his ideal cottage in a walled garden were either too far away from Hyde Park, or they were not to be let, or they were to be let unfurnished. So, like a prudent person, he moderated his desires, and began to cast about for any furnished house of fairly cheerful aspect, with a garden behind. But here again he found that the large furnished houses were out of the question, because they were unnecessarily expensive, and that the smaller ones were mostly to be found in slummy streets; while in both cases there was a difficulty about servants. The end of it was that he took the first floor of an old-fashioned house in Hans Place, being induced to do so partly because the landlady was a bright, pleasant-looking little Frenchwoman, and partly because the rooms were furnished and decorated in a fashion not common to lodging-houses.
Then came the question of terms, references, and what not; and on all of these points Mr. Brand showed himself remarkably complaisant. But when all this was done he sat down, and said,
"Now I wish you to understand me clearly, madame. This lady I have told you about has come through much trouble; you are to be kind to her, and I will see you do not lose by it. Her daughter will come to see her frequently, perhaps every day; I suppose the young lady's maid can remain down-stairs somewhere."
"Oh yes, sir."
"Very well. Now if you will be so good as to get me pen and ink I will give you a check for fifty-two pounds—that is, a pound a week for a year. You see, there are a number of little kindnesses you could show this poor lady that would be all the more appreciated if they were not put down in a book and charged for: you understand? You could find out, perhaps, from time to time some little delicacy she is fond of. Then flowers: there is a good florist's shop in Sloane Street is there not?"
"Oh yes, sir."
She brought the ink, and he drew out the check.
"Then when the young lady comes to see her mother you will be very attentive and kind to her too. You must not wait for them to ask for this or that; you must come up to the door and say 'Will not the young lady have a cup of chocolate?' or whatever you can suggest—fruit, biscuits, wine, or what not. And as these little extras will cost you something, I cannot allow you to be out of pocket; so here is a fund for you to draw from; and, of course, not a word to either of the ladies. I think you understand?"
"Perfectly, sir," said madame.
"Then, if I hear that you have been very kind and obliging, I suppose one might be allowed from time to time to send you a little present—something to beautify your house with? You have pretty rooms; you have shown great taste in decorating them."
"Oh, not I, sir," said the little Frenchwoman; "I took the house as it stands from Mr. ——."
"The architect," said Brand. "Ah, that explains. But I am surprised he should have used gas."
"That was my doing," said the landlady, with some pride. "It is a great improvement. It is so convenient, is it not?"
"My dear madame," said Brand, seriously, "it cannot be convenient to have one's lungs poisoned with the smoke of London gas. You must on no account allow this lady who is coming to your house to sit through the long evenings with gas blazing over her head all the time; why, she would have continual headache. No, no, you must get a couple of lamps—one for the piano there, and a smaller reading-one fox this little table by the fire. Then these sconces, you will get candles for them, of course; red ones look pretty—not pink, but red."
The French landlady seemed rather dismayed. She had been all smiles and courtesy so far; but now the bargain did not promise to be so profitable if this was the way she was to begin. But Brand pulled out his watch.
"If you will allow me," said he, "I will go and get a few things to make the room look homely. You see this lady must be made as comfortable as possible, for she will see no one but her daughter, and all the evenings she will be alone. Now will you be so good as to have the fire lit? And these little things I am about to get for you, of course they will become your property; only you need not say who presented them to you, you perceive?"
The little woman's face grew happy again, and she assured him fervently and repeatedly that he might trust her to do her best for this lady about whom he seemed so anxious.
It was almost dusk when he went out; most of the shops in Sloane Street had their windows lit. He set about this further task of his with an eager delight. For although it was ostensibly for Natalie's mother that he was buying this and buying that, there was an underlying consciousness that Natalie herself would be pleased—that many and many a time she would occupy that pretty little sitting-room, that perhaps she might guess who it was who had been so thoughtful about her mother and herself. Fortunately Sloane Street is an excellent shopping thoroughfare; he got everything he wanted—even wax candles of the proper tint of red. He first of all went to the florist's and got fruit and flowers enough to decorate a hall. Then from shop to shop he wandered, buying books here, a couple of lamps there, a low, softly-cushioned easy-chair, a fire-screen, pastils, tins of sweet biscuits, a dozen or two of Hungarian wine, a tea-making apparatus, a box of various games, some white rose scent, and he was very near adding a sewing-machine, but thought he would wait to see whether she understood the use of that instrument. All these and many other articles were purchased on the explicit condition that they were to be delivered in Hans Place within the following half-hour.
Then he went back to the lodging-house, carrying in his hand the red candles. These he placed himself in the sconces, and lit them; the effect was good, now that the fire was blazing cheerfully. One by one the things arrived; and gradually the lodging-house sitting-room grew more and more like a home. He put the flowers here and there about the place, the little Frenchwoman having brought him such, small jars and vases as were in her possession—these fortunately including a couple of bits of modern Venetian glass. The reading-lamp was lit and put on the small table; the newly imported easy-chair was drawn to the fire; some books and the evening papers scattered about. He lit one of the pastils, put the fire-screen in its place, and had a last look round.
Then he got into a hansom and drove up to the house in the Edgware Road. He was immediately admitted and shown up-stairs. Natalie's mother rose to receive him; he fancied she had been crying.
"I am come to take you to your new rooms," he said, cheerfully. "They are better than these."
"Ah, that is kind of you," she said, also speaking in French; "but in truth what do I care where I am? My heart is full of joy. It is enough for me to sit quiet and say to myself, 'My child loves me. She has not turned away from me. She is more beautiful even than I had believed; and she has a good heart. I have no longer any fear.'"
"Yes, madame," said he, "but you must not sit quiet and think like that, or you will become ill, and then how are you to go out walking with Natalie? You have many things to do, and many things to decide on. For example, you will have to explain to her how it is you may not go to her father's house. At this moment what other thing than that do you imagine she is thinking about? She will ask you."
"I would rather not tell her," said the mother, absently; "it is better she should not know."
He hesitated for a second or two.
"Then it is impossible that a reconciliation between your husband and yourself—"
"Oh no, no!" she said, somewhat sadly; "that is impossible, now."
"And you are anxious he should not know that you and your daughter see each other."
"I am not so anxious," she said. "I have faith in Natalushka: I can perceive her courage. But perhaps it would be better."
"Very well. Then come to these other rooms I have got for you; they are in a more secluded neighborhood."
"Very well, monsieur. I have but few things with me. I will be ready soon."
In less than half an hour after that the French landlady was receiving her new guest; and so eager was she to show to the English gentleman her gratitude for his substantial presents, that her officious kindness was almost burdensome.
"I thank you," said the new-comer, with a smile, as the landlady brought her a cushion for her back the moment she sat down in the easy chair, "but I am not yet an invalid."
Then would madame have some tea? Or perhaps madame had not dined? There was little in the house; but something could be prepared at once; from to-morrow morning madame's instructions would be fulfilled to the letter. To get rid of her, Brand informed her that madame had not dined, and would be glad to have anything that happened to be in the house. Then she left, and he was about to leave also.
"No," said the beautiful mother to him, with a smile on the pale face. "Sit down; I have something to say to you."
He sat down, his hat still in his hand.
"I have not thanked you," she said. "I see who has done all this: do you think a stranger would know to have the white-rose scent for me that Natalie uses? She was right: you are kind—you think of others."
"It is nothing—it is nothing," he said, hastily, and with all an Englishman's embarrassment.
"My dear friend," said his companion, with a grave kindness in her tone, and a look of affectionate interest in her eyes, "I am going to prove my gratitude to you. I am going to prevent—what do you call it?—a lover's quarrel."
"Yesterday," she continued, still regarding him in that kindly way, "before we left your rooms, Natalushka was very reserved toward you; was it not so? I perceived it; and you?"
"I—I thought she was tired," he stammered.
"To-morrow you are to fetch her here; and what if you find her still more reserved—even cold toward you? You will be pained, perhaps alarmed. Ah, my dear friend, life is made very bitter sometimes by mistakes; so it is that I must tell you the reason. The child loves you; be sure of that. Yes; but she thinks that she has been too frank in saying so—in time of trouble and anxiety; and now—now that you are perhaps not going to America—now that perhaps all the trouble is over—now she is beginning to think she ought to be a little more discreet, as other young ladies are. The child means no harm, but you and she must not quarrel."
He took her hand to bid her good-bye.
"Natalie and I are not likely to quarrel," said he, cheerfully. "Now I am going away. If I stayed, you would do nothing but talk about her, whereas it is necessary that you should have some dinner, then read one of these books for an hour or so, then go to bed and have a long, sound night's rest. You must be looking your brightest when she comes to see you to-morrow."
And indeed, as it turned out subsequently, this warning; of the mother's was not wholly unnecessary. Next day at eleven o'clock, as had previously been arranged, Brand met Natalie at the corner of Great Stanhope Street to escort her to the house to which her mother had removed. He had not even got into the park with her when he perceived that her manner was distinctly reserved. Anneli was with her, and she kept talking from time to time to the little maid, who was thus obliged, greatly against her will, to walk close to her mistress. At last Brand said,
"Natalie, have I offended you?"
"Oh no!" she said, in a hurried, low voice.
"Natalie," said he, very gently, "I once heard of a wicked creature who was determined to play the hypocrite, and might have done a great deal of mischief, only she had a most amiable mother, who stepped in and gave somebody else a warning. Did you ever hear of such a wicked person?"
The blood mounted to her face. By this time Anneli had taken leave to fall behind.
"Then," said the girl, with some hesitation, and yet with firmness, "you will not misunderstand me. If all the circumstances are to be altered, then—then you must forget what I have said to you in moments of trouble. I have a right to ask it. You must forget the past altogether."
"But it is impossible!"
"It is necessary."
For some minutes they walked on in silence. Then he felt a timid touch on his arm; her hand had been laid there, deprecatingly, for a moment.
"Are you angry with me?"
"No, I am not," said he, frankly, "for the very reason that what you ask is impossible, unnecessary, absurd. You might as well ask me to forget that I am alive. In any case, isn't it rather too soon? Are you so sure that all the trouble is past? Wait till the storm is well over, and we are going into port, then we will put on our Sunday manners to go ashore."
"I am afraid you are angry with me," she said again, timidly.
"You could not make me, if you tried," he said, simply; "but I am proud of you, Natalie—proud of the courage and clearness and frankness of your character, and I don't like to see you fall away from that, and begin to consider what a school-mistress would think of you."
"It is not what any one may think of me that I consider; it is what I think of myself," she answered, in the same low voice.
They reached Hans Place. The mother was at the door of the room to welcome them. She took her daughter by the hand and led her in.
"Look round, Natalushka," she said. "Can you guess who has arranged all this for me—for me and for you?"
The girl almost instantly turned—her eyes cast down—and took her lover's hand, and kissed it in silence. That was all.
Then said he, lightly, as he shoved the low easy-chair nearer the fire,
"Come, madame, and sit down here; and you, Natalushka, here is a stool for you, that you will be able to lean your head on your mother's knee. There; it is a very pretty group: do you know why I make you into a picture? Well, you see, these are troubled times; and one has one's work to do; and who can tell what may happen? But don't you see that, whatever may happen, I can carry away with me this picture; and always, wherever I may be, I can say to myself that Natalie and her mother are together in the quiet little room, and that they are happy. Now I must bid you good-bye; I have a great deal of business to-day with my solicitor. And the landlady, madame: how does she serve you?"
"She overwhelms me with kindness."
"That is excellent," said he, as he shook hands with them and, against both their protests, took his leave.
He carried away that picture in his mind. He had left these two together, and they were happy. What mattered it to him what became of himself?
It was on the evening of that day that he had to obey the summons of the Council.
Punctual to the moment George Brand arrived in Lisle Street. He was shown into an inner room, where he found Lind seated at a desk, and Reitzei and Beratinsky standing by the fireplace. On an adjacent table where four cups of black coffee, four small glasses, a bottle of brandy, and a box of cigarettes.
Lind rose to receive him, and was very courteous indeed—apologizing for having had to break in on his preparations for leaving, and offering him coffee, cigarettes, and what not. When the new-comer had declined these, Lind resumed his place and begged the others to be seated.
"We will proceed to business at once, gentlemen," said he, speaking in quite an ordinary and matter-of-fact way, "although, I will confess to you, it is not business entirely to my liking. Perhaps I should not say so. This paper, you see, contains my authorization from the Council to summon you and to explain the service they demand: perhaps I should merely obey, and say nothing. But we are friends; we can speak in confidence."
Here Reitzei, who was even more pallid than usual, and whose fingers seemed somewhat shaky, filled one of the small glasses of brandy, and drank it off.
"I do not say that I hesitate," continued Lind—"that I am reluctant, because the service that is required from us—from one of us four—is dangerous—is exceedingly dangerous. No," he said, with a brief smile, "as far as I am myself concerned, I have carried my life in my hands too often to think much about that. And you, gentlemen, considering the obligations you have accepted, I take it that the question of possible harm to yourselves is not likely to interfere with your obedience to the commands of the Council."
"As for me," said Reitzei, eagerly and nervously, "I tell you this, I should like to have something exciting now—I do not care what. I am tired of this work in London; it is slow, regular, like the ticking of a clock. I am for something to stir the blood a little. I say that I am ready for anything."
"As for me," said Beratinsky, curtly, "no one has ever yet called me a coward."
Brand said nothing; but he perceived that this was something unusually serious, and almost unconsciously he closed his right hand that he might feel the clasp of Natalie's ring. There was no need to appeal to his oaths of allegiance.
Lind proceeded, in a graver fashion,
"Yes, I confess that personally I am for avoiding violence, for proceeding according to law. But then the Council would say, perhaps, 'Are there not injuries for which the law gives no redress? Are there not those who are beyond the power of the law? And we, who have given our lives to the redressing of wrongs, to the protection of the poor, to the establishment of the right, are we to stand by and see the moral sense of the community outraged by those in high places, and say no word, and lift no hand?'"
He took up a book that was lying on the table, and opened it at a marked page.
"Yes," he said, "there are occasions on which a man may justly take the law into his own hands; may break the law, and go beyond it, and punish those whom the law has failed to punish; and the moral sense of the world will say, 'Well done!' Did you ever happen to read, Mr. Brand, the letter written by Madame von Maderspach?"
Brand started at the mention of the name: it recalled the first evening on which he had seen Natalie. What strange things had happened since then! He answered that he did not know of Madame von Maderspach's letter.
"By chance I came across it to-day," said Lind, looking at the book. "Listen: 'I was torn from the arms of my husband, from the circle of my children, from the hallowed sanctuary of my home, charged with no offence, allowed no hearing, arraigned before no judge. I, a woman, wife, and mother, was in my own native town, before the people accustomed to treat me with respect, dragged into a square of soldiers, and there scourged with rods. Look, I can write this without dropping dead! But my husband killed himself. Robbed of all other weapons, he shot himself with a pocket-pistol. The people rose, and would have killed those who instigated these horrors, but their lives were saved by the interference of the military.' Very well. Von Maderspach took his own way; he shot himself. But if, instead of doing that, he had taken the law into his own hands, and killed the author of such an outrage, do you think there is a human being in the world who would have blamed him?"
He appealed directly to Brand. Brand answered calmly, but with his face grown rather white, "I think if such a thing were done to—to my wife, I would have a shot at somebody."
Perhaps Lind thought that it was the recital of the wrongs of Madame von Maderspach that had made this man's face grow white, and given him that look about the mouth; but at all events he continued, "Exactly so. I was only seeking to show you that there are occasions on which a man might justly take the law into his own hands. Well, then, some would argue—I don't say so myself, but some would say—that what a man may do justly an association may do justly. What would the quick-spreading civilization of America have done but for the Lynch tribunals? The respectable people said to themselves, 'it is question of life or death. We have to attack those scoundrels at once, or society will be destroyed. We cannot wait for the law: it is powerless.' And so when the president had given his decision, out they went and caught the scoundrels, and strung them up to the nearest tree. You do not call them murderers. John Lynch ought to have a statue in every Western State in America."
"Certainly, certainly!" exclaimed Reitzei, reaching over and filling out another glass of brandy with an unsteady hand. He was usually an exceedingly temperate person. "We are all agreed. Justice must be done, whether the law allows or not; I say the quicker the better."
Lind paid no heed to him, but proceeded quietly, "Now I will come more directly to what is required of us by the Council; I have been trying to guess at their view of the question; perhaps I am altogether wrong; but no matter. And I will ask you to imagine yourselves not here in this free country of England, where the law is strong—and not only that, but you have a public opinion that is stronger still—and where it is not possible that a great Churchman should be a man living in open iniquity, and an oppressor and a scoundrel—I will ask you to imagine yourselves living in Italy, let one say in the Papal Territory itself, where the reign of Christ should be, and where the poor should be cared for, if there is Christianity still on the earth. And you are poor, let us say; hardly knowing how to scrape together a handful of food sometimes; and your children ragged and hungry; and you forced from time to time to go to the Monte di Pieta to pawn your small belongings, or else you will die, or you will see your children die before your eyes."
"Ah, yes, yes!" exclaimed Reitzei. "That is the worst of it—to see one's children die! That is worse than one's own hunger."
"And you," continued Lind, quietly, but still with a little more distinctness of emphasis, "you, you poor devils, you see a great dignitary of the Church, a great prince among priests, living in shameless luxury, in violation of every law, human and divine, with the children of his mistresses set up in palaces, himself living on the fat of the land. What law does he not break, this libertine, this usurer? What makes the corn dear, so that you cannot get it for your starving children?—what but this plunderer, this robber, seizing the funds that extremity has dragged from the poor in order to buy up the grain of the States? A pretty speculation! No wonder that you murmur and complain; that you curse him under your breath, that you call him il cardinale affamatore. And no wonder, if you happen to belong to a great association that has promised to see justice done, no wonder you come to that association and say, 'Masters, why cannot justice be done now? It is too long to wait for the Millennium. Remove this oppressor from the face of the earth: down with the Starving Cardinal!'"
"Yes, yes, yes!" cried Reitzei, excitedly. Beratinsky sat silent and sullen. Brand, with some strange foreboding of what was coming, still sat with his hand tight closed on Natalie's ring.
"More," continued Lind—and now, if he was acting, it was a rare piece of acting, for wrath and indignation gathered on his brow, and increased the emphasis of his voice—"it is not only your purses, it is not only your poor starved homesteadings that are attacked, it is the honor of your women. Whose sister or daughter is safe? Mr. Brand, one of your English poets has made the poor cry to the rich,
"'Our sons are your slaves by day, Our daughters your slaves by night.'
But what if some day a poor man—I will tell you his name—his name is De Bedros; he is not a peasant, but a helpless, poor old man—what if this man comes to the great association that I have mentioned and says, wringing his hands, 'My Brothers and Companions, you have sworn to protect the weak and avenge the injured: what is your oath worth if you do not help me now? My daughter, my only daughter, has been taken from me, she has been stolen from my side, shrieking with fear, and I thrown bleeding into the ditch. By whom? By one who is beyond the law; who laughs at the law; who is the law! But you—you will be the avengers. Too long has this monster outraged the name of Christ and insulted the forbearance of his fellow creatures: my Brothers, this is what I demand from your hands—I demand from the SOCIETY OF THE SEVEN STARS—I demand from you, the Council—I demand, my Brothers and Companions, a decree of death against the monster Zaccatelli!'"
"Yes, yes, yes, the decree!" shouted Reitzei, all trembling. "Who could refuse it? Or I myself—"
"Gentlemen," said Lind, calmly, "the decree has been granted. Here is my authority; read it."
He held out the paper first of all to Brand, who took it in both his hands, and forced himself to go over it. But he could not read it very carefully; his heart was beating quickly; he was thinking of a great many things all at once—of Lord Evelyn, of Natalie, of his oaths to the Society, even of his Berkshire home and the beech-woods. He handed on the paper to Reitzei, who was far too much excited to read it at all. Beratinsky merely glanced at it carelessly, and put it back on the table.
"Gentlemen," Lind continued, returning to his unemotional manner, "personally, I consider it just that this man, whom the law cannot or does not choose to reach, should be punished for his long career of cruelty, oppression, and crime, and punished with death! but, as I confessed to you before, I could have wished that that punishment had not been delivered by our hands. We have made great progress in England; and we have been preaching nothing but peace and good-will, and the use of lawful means of amelioration. If this deed is traced to our Society, as it almost certainly will be, it will do us a vast amount of injury here; for the English people will not be able to understand that such a state of affairs as I have described can exist, or that this is the only remedy. As I said to you before, it is with great reluctance that I summoned you here to-night—"
"Why so, Brother Lind?" Reitzei broke in, and again he reached over for the bottle. "We are not cowards, then?"
Beratinsky took the bottle from him and put it back on the table.
Reitzei did not resent this interference; he only tried to roll up a cigarette, and did not succeed very well with his trembling fingers.
"You will have seen," said Lind, continuing as if there had been no interruption, "why the Council have demanded this duty of the English section. The lesson would be thrown away altogether—a valuable life belonging to the Society would be lost—if it were supposed that this was an act of private revenge. No; the death of Cardinal Zaccatelli will be a warning that Europe will take to heart. At least," he added, thoughtfully, "I hope it will prove to be so, and I hope it will be unnecessary to repeat the warning."
"You are exceedingly tender-hearted, Brother Lind," said Reitzei. "Do you pity this man, then? Do you think he should flourish his crimes in the face of the world for another twenty, thirty years?"
"It is unnecessary to say what I think," observed Lind, in the same quiet fashion. "It is enough for us that we know our duty. The Council have commanded; we obey."
"Yes; but let us come to the point, Brother Lind," said Beratinsky, in a somewhat surly fashion. "I do not much care what happens to me; yet one wishes to know."
"Gentlemen," said Lind, composedly, "you know that among the ordinances of the Society is one to the effect that no member shall be sent on any duty involving peril to his life without a ballot among at least four persons. As this particular service is one demanding great secrecy and circumspection, I have considered it right to limit the ballot to four—to ourselves, in fact."
There was not a word said.
"That the duty involves peril to life is obvious; it will be a miracle if he who undertakes this affair should escape. As for myself, you will perceive by the paper you have read that I am commissioned by the Council to form the ballot, but not instructed to include myself. I could avoid doing so if I chose, but when I ask my friends to run a risk, I am willing to take the same risk. For the rest, I have been in as dangerous enterprises before."
He leaned over and pulled toward him a sheet of paper. Then he took a pair of scissors and cut the sheet into four pieces; these he proceeded to fold up until they were about the size of a shilling, and identically alike. All the time he was talking.
"Yes, it will be a dangerous business," he said, slowly, "and one requiring great forethought and caution. Then I do not say it is altogether impossible one might escape; though then the warning, the lesson of this act of punishment might not be so effective: they might mistake it for a Camorra affair, though the Cardinal himself already knows otherwise."
He opened a bottle of red ink that stood by.
"The simplest means are sufficient," said he. "This is how we used to settle affairs in '48."
He opened one of the pieces of paper, and put a cross in red on it, which he dried on the blotting-paper. Then he folded it up again, threw the four pieces into a pasteboard box, put down the lid, and shook the box lightly.
"Whoever draws the red cross," he said, almost indifferently, "carries out the command of the Council. Have you anything to say, gentlemen—to suggest?"
"Yes," said Reitzei, boldly.
Lind regarded him.
"What is the use of the ballot?" said the pallid-faced young man. "What if one volunteers? I should myself like to settle the business of the scoundrelly Cardinal."
Lind shook his head.
"Impossible. Calabressa thought of a volunteer; he was mad! There must be a ballot. Come; shall we proceed?"
He opened the box and put it before Beratinsky. Beratinsky took out one of the papers, opened it, glanced at it, crumpled it up, and threw it into the fire.
"It isn't I, at all events," he said.
It was Reitzei next. When he glanced at the paper he had drawn, he crushed it together with an oath, and dashed it on the floor.
"Of course, of course," he exclaimed, "just when I was eager for a bit of active service. So it is you, Brother Lind, or our friend Brand who is to settle the business of the Starving Cardinal."
Calmly, almost as a matter of course, Lind handed the box to George Brand; and he, being a proud man, and in the presence of foreigners, was resolved to show no sign of emotion whatever. When he took out the paper and opened it, and saw his fate there in the red cross, he laid it on the table before him without a word. Then he shut his hand on Natalie's ring.
"Well," said Lind, rather sadly, as he took out the remaining paper without looking at it, and threw aside the box, "I almost regret it, as between you and me. I have less of life to look forward to."