He was startled by the sound of some vehicle rattling over the gravel outside; then he heard some one come walking through the echoing rooms. Instantly, he scarcely knew why he shut down the lid of the case in front of him.
"Missed the train by just a second," Lord Evelyn said, coming into the room; "I am awfully sorry."
"It doesn't matter," Brand answered; "but I am glad you have come. I have everything squared up in London, I think; there only remains to settle a few things down here."
He spoke in quite a matter-of-fact way—so much so that his friend forgot to utter any further and unavailing protest.
"You know I am supposed to be going away abroad for a long time," he continued. "You must take my place, Evelyn, in a sort of way, and I will introduce you to-day to the people you must look after. There is a grandson of my mother's nurse, for example: I promised to do something for him when he completed his apprenticeship; and two old ladies who have seen better days—they are not supposed to accept any help, but you can make wonderful discoveries about the value of their old china, and carry it off to Bond Street. I will leave you plenty of funds; before my nephew comes into the place there will be sufficient for him and to spare. But as for yourself, Evelyn, I want you to take some little souvenir—how about this?"
He went and fetched a curious old silver drinking-cup, set round the lip and down the handle with uncut rubies and sapphires.
"I don't like the notion of the thing at all," Lord Evelyn said, rather gloomily; but it was not the cup that he was refusing thus ungraciously.
"After a time people will give me up for lost; and I have left you ample power to give any one you can think of some little present, don't you know, as a memento—whatever strikes your own fancy. I want Natalie to have that Louis XV. table over there—people rather admire the inlaid work on it, and the devices inside are endless. However, we will make out a list of these things afterward. Will you drive me down to the village now? I want you to see my pensioners."
"All right—if you like," Lord Evelyn said; though his heart was not in the work.
He walked out of this little room and made his way to the front-door, fancying that Brand would immediately follow. But Brand returned to that room, and opened the case of miniatures. Then he took from his pocket a little parcel, and unrolled it: it was a portrait of Natalie—a photograph on porcelain, most delicately colored, and surrounded with an antique silver frame. He gazed for a minute or two at the beautiful face, and somehow the eyes seemed sad to him. Then he placed the little portrait—which itself looked like a miniature—next the miniature of his mother, and shut the case and locked it.
"I beg your pardon, Evelyn, for keeping you waiting," he said, at the front-door. "Will you particularly remember this—that none of the portraits here are to be disturbed on any account whatever?"
Natalie slept far from soundly the first night after her arrival in Naples; she was glad when the slow, anxious hours, with all their bewildering uncertainties and forebodings, were over. She rose early, and dressed quickly; she threw open the tall French windows to let in the soft silken air from the sea; then she stepped out on the balcony to marvel once more—she who knew Naples well enough—at the shining beauty around her.
It was a morning to give courage to any one; the air was fresh and sweet; she drank deep of the abundant gladness and brightness of the world. The great plain of waters before her shimmered and sparkled in millions of diamonds; with here and there long splashes of sunny green, and here and there long splashes of purple where the sea-weed showed through. The waves sprung white on the projecting walls of the Castello dell' Ovo, and washed in on the shore with a soft continuous murmur; the brown-sailed fishing-boats went by, showing black or red as they happened to be in sunshine or shadow. Then far away beyond the shining sea the island of Capri lay like a blue cloud on the horizon; and far away beyond the now awakening city near her rose Vesuvius, the twin peaks dark under some swathes of cloud, the sunlight touching the lower slopes into a yellowish green, and shining on the pink fringe of villas along the shore. On so fair and bright a morning hope came as natural to her as singing to a bird. The fears of the night were over; she could not be afraid of what such a day should bring forth.
And yet—and yet—from time to time—and just for a second or so—her heart seemed to stand still. And she was so silent and preoccupied at breakfast, that her mother remarked it; and Natalie had to excuse herself by saying that she was a little tired with the travelling. After breakfast she led her mother into the reading-room, and said, in rather an excited way,
"Now, mother, here is a treat for you; you will get all the English papers here, and all the news."
"You forget, Natalie," said her mother, smiling, "that English papers are not of much use to me."
"Ah, well, the foreign papers," she said, quickly. "You see, mother, I want to go along to a chemist's to get some white rose."
"You should not throw it about the railway carriages so much, Natalushka," the unsuspecting mother said, reprovingly. "You are extravagant."
She did not heed.
"Perhaps they will have it in Naples. Wait until I come back, mother; I shall not be long."
But it was not white-rose scent that was in her mind as she went rapidly away and got ready to go out; and it was not in search of any chemist's shop that she made her way to the Via Roma. Why, she had asked herself that morning, as she stood on the balcony, and drank in the sunlight and the sweet air, should she take the poor tired mother with her on this adventure? If there was danger, she would brave it by herself. She walked quickly—perhaps anxious to make the first plunge.
She had no difficulty in finding the Vico Carlo, though it was one of the narrowest and steepest of the small, narrow, and steep lanes leading off the main thoroughfare into the masses of tall and closely-built houses on the side of the hill. But when she looked up and recognized the little plate bearing the name at the corner, she turned a little pale; something, she knew not what, was now so near.
And as she turned into this narrow and squalid little alley, it seemed as if her eyes, through some excitement or other, observed the objects around her with a strange intensity. She could remember each and every one of them afterward—the fruit-sellers bawling, and the sellers of acidulated drinks out-roaring them; the shoemakers already at work at their open stalls; mules laden with vegetables; a negro monk, with his black woolly head above the brown hood; a venerable letter-writer at a small table, spectacles on nose and pen in hand, with two women whispering to him what he was to write for them. She made her way up the steep lane, through the busy, motley, malodorous crowd, until she reached the corner pointed out to her by Calabressa.
But he had not told her which way to turn, and for a second or two she stood in the middle of the crossing, uncertain and bewildered. A brawny-looking fellow, apparently a butcher, addressed her; she murmured some thanks, and hastily turned away, taking to the right. She had not gone but a few yards when she saw the entrance to a court which, at least, was certainly as dark as that described by Calabressa. She was half afraid that the man who had spoken to her was following her; and so, without further hesitation, she plunged into this gloomy court-yard, which was apparently quite deserted.
She was alone, and she looked around. A second convinced her that she had hit upon the place, as it were by accident. Over her head swung an oil-lamp, that threw but the scantiest orange light into the vague shadows of the place; and in front of her were the open windows of what was apparently a wine-shop. She did not stay to reflect. Perhaps with some little tightening of the mouth—unknown to herself—she walked forward and entered the vaults.
Here, again, no one was visible; there were rows of tuns, certainly, and a musty odor in the place, but no sign of any trade or business being carried on. Suddenly out of the darkness appeared a figure—so suddenly indeed as to startle her. Had this man been seen in ordinary daylight, he would no doubt have looked nothing worse than a familiar type of the fat black-a-vised Italian—not a very comely person, it is true, but not in any way horrible—but now these dusky shadows lent something ghoulish-looking to his bushy head and greasy face and sparkling black eyes.
"What is the pleasure of the young lady?" he said, curtly.
Natalie had been startled.
"I wished to inquire—I wished to mention," she stammered, "one Bartolotti."
But at the same time she was conscious of a strange sinking of the heart. Was this the sort of creature who was expected to save the life of her lover?—this the sort of man to pit against Ferdinand Lind? Poor old Calabressa—she thought he meant well, but he boasted, he was foolish.
This heavy-faced and heavy-bodied man in the dusk did not reply at once. He turned aside, saying,
"Excuse me, signorina, it is dark here; they have neglected to light the lamps as yet."
Then, with much composure, he got a lamp, struck a match, and lit it. The light was not great, but he placed it deliberately so that it shone on Natalie, and then he calmly investigated her appearance.
"Yes, signorina, you mentioned one Bartolotti," he remarked, in a more respectful tone.
Natalie hesitated. According to Calabressa's account, the mere mention of the name was to act as a talisman which would work wonders for her. This obese person merely stood there, awaiting what she should say.
"Perhaps," she said, in great embarrassment, "you know one Calabressa?"
"Ah, Calabressa!" he said, and the dull face lighted up with a little more intelligence. "Yes, of course, one knows Calabressa."
"He is a friend of mine," she said. "Perhaps, if I could see him, he would explain to you—"
"But Calabressa is not here; he is not even in this country, perhaps."
Then silence. A sort of terror seized her. Was this the end of all her hopes? Was she to go away thus? Then came a sudden cry, wrung from her despair.
"Oh, sir, you must tell me if there is no one who can help me! I have come to save one who is in trouble, in danger. Calabressa said to me, 'Go to Naples; go to such and such a place; the mere word Bartolotti will give you powerful friends; count on them; they will not fail one who belongs to the Berezolyis.' And now—"
"Your pardon, signorina: have the complaisance to repeat the name."
"Berezolyi," she answered, quickly; "he said it would be known."
"I for my part do not know it; but that is of no consequence," said the man. "I begin to perceive what it is that you demand. It is serious. I hope my friend Calabressa is justified. I have but to do my duty."
Then he glanced at the young lady—or, rather, at her costume.
"The assistance you demand for some one, signorina: is it a sum of money—is it a reasonable, ordinary sum of money that would be in the question, perhaps?"
"Oh no, signore; not at all!"
"Very well. Then have the kindness to write your name and your address for me: I will convey your appeal."
He brought her writing materials; after a moment's consideration she wrote—"Natalie Lind, the daughter of Natalie Berezolyi. Hotel ——." She handed him the paper.
"A thousand thanks, signorina. To-day, perhaps to-morrow, you will hear from the friends of Calabressa. You will be ready to go where they ask you to go?"
"Oh yes, yes, sir!" she exclaimed. "How can I thank you?"
"It is unnecessary," he said, taking the lamp to show her the way more clearly. "I have the honor to wish you good-morning, signorina." And again he bowed respectfully. "Your most humble servant, signorina."
She returned to the hotel, and found that her mother had gone up-stairs to her own room.
"Natalushka, you have been away trying to find some one?"
"Yes, mother," the girl said, rather sadly.
"Why did you go alone?"
"I thought I would not tire you, dear mother."
Then she described all the circumstances of her morning's visit.
"But why should you be so sad, Natalushka?" the mother said, taking her daughter's hand; "don't you know that fine palaces may have rusty keys? Oh, I can reassure you on that point. You will not have to deal with persons like your friend the wine-merchant—not at all. I know at least as much as that, child. But you see, they have to guard themselves."
Natalie would not leave the hotel for a moment. She pretended to read; but every person who came into the reading-room caused her to look up with a start of apprehensive inquiry. At last there came a note for her. She broke open the envelope hurriedly, and found a plain white card, with these words written on it:
"Be at the Villa Odelschalchi, Portici, at four this afternoon."
Joy leaped to her face again.
"Mother, look!" she cried, eagerly. "After all, we may hope."
"This time you shall not go alone, Natalushka."
"Why not, mother? I am not afraid."
"I may be of use to you, child. There may be friends of mine there—who knows? I am going with you."
In course of time they hired a carriage, and drove away through the crowded and gayly-colored city in the glow of the afternoon. But they had sufficient prudence, before reaching Portici, to descend from the carriage and proceed on foot. They walked quietly along, apparently not much interested in what was around them. Presently Natalie pressed her mother's arm, they were opposite the Villa Odelschalchi—there was the name on the flat pillars by the gate.
This great plain building, which might have been called a palazzo rather than a villa, seemed, on the side fronting the street, to be entirely closed—all the casements of the windows being shut. But when they crossed to the gate, and pulled the big iron handle that set a bell ringing, a porter appeared—a big, indolent-looking man, who regarded them calmly, to see which would speak first.
Natalie simply produced the card that had been sent to her.
"This is the Villa Odelschalchi, I perceive," she said.
"Oh, it is you, then, signorina?" the porter said, with great respect. "Yes, there was one lady to come here at four o'clock—"
"But the signora is my mother," said Natalie, perhaps with a trifle of impatience.
The man hesitated for a moment, but by this time Natalie, accompanied by her mother, had passed through the cool gray archway into the spacious tessellated court, from which rose on each hand a wide marble staircase.
"Will the signorina and the signora her mother condescend to follow me?" the porter said, leading the way up one of the staircases, the big iron keys still in his hand.
They were shown into an antechamber, but scantily furnished, and the porter disappeared. In a minute or two there came into the room a small, sallow-complexioned man, who was no other than the Secretary Granaglia. He bowed, and, as he did so, glanced from the one to the other of the visitors with scrutiny.
"It is no doubt correct, signorina," said he, addressing himself to Natalie, "that you have brought the signora your mother with you. We had thought you were alone, from the message we received. No matter; only"—and here he turned to Natalie's mother—"only, signora, you will renew your acquaintance with one who wishes to be known by the name of Von Zoesch. I have no doubt the signora understands."
"Oh, perfectly, perfectly!" said the elder woman: she had been familiar with these prudent changes of name all her life.
The Secretary Granaglia bowed and retired.
"It is some one who knows you, mother?" Natalie said, breathlessly.
"Oh, I hope so!" the other answered. She was a little pale, and her fingers were tightly clasped.
Then a heavier step was heard in the empty corridors outside. The door was opened; there appeared a tall and soldierly-looking man, about six feet three in height and perfectly erect, with closely-cropped white hair, a long white mustache, a reddish face, and clear, piercing, light-blue eyes. The moment the elder woman saw him she uttered a slight cry—of joy, it seemed, and surprise—and sprung to her feet.
"Natalie!" he exclaimed, in turn with an almost boyish laugh of pleasure, and he came forward to her with both hands outstretched, and took hers. "Why, what good wind has brought you to this country? But I beg a thousand pardons—"
He turned and glanced at Natalie.
"My child," she said, "let me present you to my old friend, General—"
"Von Zoesch," he interrupted, and he took Natalie's hand at the same time. "What, you are the young lady, then, who bearded the lion in his den this morning?—and you were not afraid? No, I can see you are a Berezolyi; if you were a man you would be forever getting yourself and your friends into scrapes, and risking your neck to get them out again. A Berezolyi, truly! 'The more beautiful daughter of a beautiful mother!' But the little scamp knew his insulting iambics were only fit to be thrown into the fire when he made that unjust comparison. Ah, you young people have fresh complexions and bright eyes on your side, but we old people prefer our old friends."
"I hope so, sir," said Natalie, with her eyes bent down.
"And had your father no other messenger that he must employ you?" said this erect, white-haired giant, who regarded her in a kindly way; "or is it that feather-brained fellow Calabressa who has got you to intercede for him? Rest assured. Calabressa will soon be in imminent peril of being laid by the heels, and he is therefore supremely happy."
Before the girl could speak he had turned to the mother.
"Come, my old friend, shall we go out into the garden? I am sorry the reception-rooms in the villa are all dismantled; in truth, we are only temporary lodgers. And I have a great many questions to ask you about old friends, particularly your father."
"Stefan, can you not understand why I have permitted myself to leave Hungary?"
He glanced at her deep mourning.
"Ah, is that so? Well, no one ever lived a braver life. And how he kept up the old Hungarian traditions!—the house a hotel from month's end to month's end: no questions asked but 'Are you a stranger? then my house is yours.'"
He led the way down the stairs, chatting to this old friend of his; and though Natalie was burning with impatience, she forced herself to be silent. Was it not all in her favor that this member of the mysterious Council should recur to these former days, and remind himself of his intimacy with her family? She followed them in silence: he seemed to have forgotten her existence.
They passed through the court-yard, and down some broad steps. The true front of the building was on this seaward side—a huge mass of pink, with green casements. From the broad stone steps a series of terraces, prettily laid out, descended to a lawn; but, instead of passing down that way, the tall, soldierly-looking man led his companion by a side-flight of steps, which enabled them to enter an allee cut through a mass of olives and orange and lemon trees. There were fig-trees along the wall by the side of this path; a fountain plashed coolly out there on the lawn, and beyond the opening showed the deep blue of the sea, with the clear waves breaking whitely on the shores.
They sat down on a garden-seat; and Natalie, sitting next her mother, waited patiently and breathlessly, scarcely hearing all this talk about old companions and friends.
At last the general said,
"Now about the business that brought you here: is it serious?"
"Oh yes, very," the mother said, with some color of excitement appearing in her worn face; "it is a friend of ours in England: he has been charged by the Society with some duty that will cost him his life; we have come to intercede for him—to ask you to save him. For the sake of old times, Stefan—"
"Wait a moment," said the other, looking grave. "Do you mean the Englishman?"
"Yes, yes; the same."
"And who has told you what it is purposed to have done?" he asked, with quite a change in his manner.
"No one," she answered, eagerly; "we guess that it is something of great danger."
"And if that is so, are you unfamiliar with persons having to incur danger? Why not an Englishman as well as another? This is an extraordinary freak of yours, Natalie; I cannot understand it. And to have come so far when any one in England—any one of us, I mean—could have told you it was useless."
"But why useless, if you are inclined to interfere?" she said, boldly, "and I think my father's family have some title to consideration."
"My old friend," said he, in a kindly way, "what is there in the world I would not do for you if it were within my power? But this is not. What you ask is, to put the matter shortly, impossible—impossible!"
In the brief silence that followed the mother heard a slight sigh: she turned instantly, and saw her daughter, as white as death, about to fall. She caught her in her arms with a slight cry of alarm.
"Here, Stefan, take my handkerchief—dip it in the water—quick!"
The huge, bullet-headed man strode across the lawn to the fountain. As he returned, and saw before him the white-lipped, unconscious girl, who was supported in her mother's arms, he said to himself, "Now I understand."
This sudden and involuntary confession of alarm and despair no doubt told her story more clearly than anything else could have done. General von Zoesch as he chose to call himself, was excessively concerned; he held her hand till he saw the life returning to the pale, beautiful face: he was profuse and earnest in his apologies.
"My dear young lady I beg a thousand pardons!—I had no idea of alarming you; I had no idea you were so deeply interested; come, take my arm, and we will walk down into the open, where the sea-air is cool. I beg a thousand pardons."
She had pulled herself together with a desperate effort of will.
"You spoke abruptly, signore; you used the word impossible! I had imagined it was unknown to you."
Her lips were rather pale; but there was a flush of color returning to her face, and her voice had something of the old proud and pathetic ring in it.
"Yes," she continued, standing-before him, with her eyes downcast, "I was told that when great trouble came upon me or mine I was to come here—to Naples—and I should find myself under the protection of the greatest power in Europe. My name—my mother's name—was to be enough. And this is the result, that a brave man, who is our friend and dear to us, is threatened with a dishonorable death, and the very power that imposed it on him—the power that was said to be invincible, and wise, and generous—is unable or unwilling to stir hand or foot!"
"A dishonorable death, signorina?"
"Oh, signore," she said, with a proud indignation, "do not speak to me as if I were a child. Cannot one see what is behind all this secrecy? Cannot one see that you know well what has been done in England by your friends and colleagues? You put this man, who is too proud, too noble, to withdraw from his word, on a service that involves the certain sacrifice of his life! and there is no honor attached to this sacrifice—so he himself has admitted. What does that mean?—what can it mean—but assassination?"
He drew back his head a little bit, as if startled, and stared at her.
"My dear young lady—"
But her courage had not returned to her for nothing. She raised the beautiful, dark, pathetic eyes, and regarded him with an indignant fearlessness.
"That is what any one might guess," she said. "But there is more. Signore, you and your friends meditate the assassination of the King of Italy! and you call on an Englishman—an Englishman who has no love of secret and blood-stained ways—"
"Stefan!" the mother cried, quickly, and she placed her hand on the general's arm; "do not be angry. Do not heed her—she is a child—she is quick to speak. Believe me, there are other reasons for our coming to you."
"Yes, yes, my friend Natalie; all in good time. But I am most anxious to put myself right with the signorina your daughter first of all. Now, my dear young lady," he said, taking her hand, and putting it on his arm, and gently compelling her to walk with him toward the opener space where the sea-air was cool, "I again apologize to you for having spoken unwittingly—"
"Oh, signore, do not trouble about that! It is no matter of courtesy or politeness that is in the question: it is the life of one of one's dearest friends. There are other times for politeness."
"Stefan," the mother interposed, anxiously, "do not heed her—she is agitated."
"My dear Natalie," said the general, smiling, "I admire a brave woman as I admire a brave man. Do not I recognize another of you Berezolyis? The moment you think one of your friends is being wronged, fire and water won't prevent you from speaking out. No, no, my dear young lady," he said, turning to the daughter, "you cannot offend me by being loyal and outspoken."
He patted her hand, just as Calabressa had done.
"But I must ask you to listen for a moment, to remove one or two misconceptions. It is true I know something of the service which your English friend has undertaken to perform. Believe me, it has nothing to do with the assassination of the King of Italy—nothing in the world."
She lifted her dark eyes for a second, and regarded him steadily.
"I perceive," said he, "that you pay me the compliment of asking me if I lie. I do not. Reassure yourself: there are no people in this country more loyal to the present dynasty than my friends and myself. We have no time for wild Republican projects."
She looked somewhat bewildered. This speculation as to the possible nature of the service demanded of George Brand had been the outcome of many a night's anxious self-communing; and she had indulged in the wild hope that this man, when abruptly challenged, might have been startled into some avowal. For then, would not her course have been clear enough? But now she was thrown back on her former perplexity, with only the one certainty present to her mind—the certainty of the danger that confronted her lover.
"My dear young lady," he said, "it is useless for you to ask what that service is, for I shall refuse to answer you. But I assure you that you have my deepest sympathy, and I have seen a good deal of suffering from similar causes. I do not seek to break into your confidence, but I think I understand your position; you will believe me that it is with no light heart that I must repeat the word impossible. Need I reason with you? Need I point out to you that there is scarcely any one in the world whom we might select for a dangerous duty who would not have some one who would suffer on his account? Who is without some tie of affection that must be cut asunder—no matter with what pain—when the necessity for the sacrifice arises? You are one of the unhappy ones; you must be brave; you must try to forget your sufferings, as thousands of wives and sweethearts and daughters have had to forget, in thinking that their relatives and friends died in a good cause."
Her heart was proud and indignant no longer; it had grown numbed. The air from the sea felt cold.
"I am helpless, signore," she murmured; "I do not know what the cause is. I do not know what justification you have for taking this man's life."
He did not answer that. He said,
"Perhaps, indeed, it is not those who are called on to sacrifice their life for the general good who suffer most. They can console themselves with thinking of the result. It is their friends—those dearest to them—who suffer, and who many a time would no doubt be glad to become their substitutes. It is true that we—that is, that many associations—recognize the principle of the vicarious performance of duties and punishments; but not any one yet has permitted a woman to become substitute for a man."
"What made you think of that, signore?" she asked, regarding him.
"I have known some cases," he said, evasively, "where such an offer, I think, would have been made."
"It could not be accepted?"
"Not even by the power that is the greatest in Europe?" she said, bitterly—"that is invincible and all-generous? Oh, signore, you are too modest in your pretensions! And the Berezolyis—they have done nothing, then, in former days to entitle them to consideration; they are but as anybody in the crowd who might come forward and intercede for a friend; they have no old associates, then, and companions in this Society, that they cannot have this one thing granted them—that they cannot get this one man's life spared to him! Signore, your representatives mistake your powers; more than that, they mistake the strength of your memory, and your friendship!"
The red face of the bullet-headed general grew redder still, but not with anger.
"Signorina," he said, evidently greatly embarrassed, "you humiliate me. You—you do not know what you ask—"
He had led her back to the garden-seat; they had both sat down; he did not notice how her bosom was struggling with emotion.
"You ask me to interfere—to commit an act of injustice—"
"Oh, signore, signore, this is what I ask!" she cried, quite overcome; and she fell at his feet, and put her clasped hands on his knees, and broke into a wild fit of crying; "this is what I ask of you, signore—this is what I beg from you on my knees—I ask you to give me the life of—of my betrothed!"
She buried her face in her hands; her frame was shaken with her sobs.
"Little daughter," said he, greatly agitated, "rise; come, remain here for a few moments; I wish to speak to your mother—alone. Natalie!"
The elder woman accompanied him a short distance across the lawn; they stood by the fountain.
"By Heaven, I would do anything for the child!" he said, rapidly; "but you see, dear friend, how it is impossible. Look at the injustice of it. If we transferred this duty to another person, what possible excuse could we make to him whom we might choose?"
He was looking back at the girl.
"It will kill her, Stefan," the mother said.
"Others have suffered also."
The elder woman seemed to collect herself a little.
"But I told you we had not said everything to you. The poor child is in despair; she has not thought of all the reasons that induced us to come to you. Stefan, you remember my cousin Konrad?"
"Oh yes, I remember Konrad well enough," said the general, absently, for he was still regarding the younger Natalie, who sat on the bench, her hands clasped, her head bent down. "Poor fellow, he came to a sad end at last; but he always carried his life in his hands, and with a gay heart too."
"But you remember, do you not, something before that?" the mother said, with some color coming into her face. "You remember how my husband had him chosen—and I myself appealed—and you, Stefan, you were among the first to say that the Society must inquire—"
"Ah, but that was different, Natalie. You know why it was that that commission had to be reversed."
"Do I know? Yes. What else have I had to think about these sixteen or seventeen years since my child was separated from me?" she said, sadly. "And perhaps I have grown suspicious; perhaps I have grown mad to think that what has happened once might happen again."
"What?" he said, turning his clear blue eyes suddenly on her.
She did not flinch.
"Consider the circumstances, Stefan, and say whether one has no reason to suspect. The Englishman, this Mr. Brand, loves Natalie; she loves him in return; my husband refuses his consent to the marriage; and yet they meet in opposition to his wishes. Then there is another thing that I cannot so well explain, but it is something about a request on my husband's part that Mr. Brand, who is a man of wealth, should accept a certain offer, and give over his property to the funds of the Society."
"I understand perfectly," her companion said, calmly. "Well?"
"Well, Mr. Brand, thinking of Natalie's future, refuses. But consider this, Stefan, that it had been hinted to him before that in case of his refusal, he might be sent to America to remain there for life."
"I perceive, my old friend, that you are reading in your own interpretations into an ordinary matter of business. However—"
"But his refusal was immediately followed by that arrangement. He was ordered to go to America. My husband, no doubt considered that that would effectually separate him and Natalie—"
"Again you are putting in your own interpretation."
"One moment, Stefan. My child is brave; she thought an injustice was being done; she thought it was for her sake that her lover was being sent away, and then she spoke frankly; she said she would go with him."
"Yes?" He was now listening with more interest.
"You perceive then, my dear friend, my husband was thwarted in every way. Then it was, and quite suddenly, that he reversed this arrangement about America, and there fell on Mr. Brand this terrible thing. Knowing what I know, do you not think I had fair cause for suspicion? And when Natalie said, 'Oh, there are those abroad who will remove this great trouble from us,' then I said to myself, 'At all events, the Society does not countenance injustice; it will see that right has been done.'"
The face of the man had grown grave, and for some time he did not speak.
"I see what you suggest, Natalie," he said at length. "It is a serious matter. I should have said your suspicions were idle—that the thing was impossible—but for the fact that it has occurred before. Strange, now, if old ——, whose wisdom and foresight the world is beginning to recognize now, should be proved to be wise on this point too, as on so many others. He used always to say to us: 'When once you find a man unfaithful, never trust him after. When once a man has allowed himself to put his personal advantage before his duty to such a society as yours, it shows that somewhere or other there is in him the leaven of a self-seeker, which is fatal to all societies. Impose the heaviest penalties on such an offence; cast him out when you have the opportunity.' It would be strange, indeed; it would be like fate; it would appear as though the thing were in the blood, and must come out, no matter what warning the man may have had before. You know, Natalie, what your husband had to endure for his former lapse?"
She nodded her head.
For some time he was again silent, and there was a deeper air of reflection on his face than almost seemed natural to it, for he looked more of a soldier than a thinker.
"If there were any formality," he said, almost to himself, "in the proceedings, one might have just cause to intervene. But your husband, my Natalie," he continued, addressing her directly, "is well trusted by us. He has done us long and faithful service. We should be slow to put any slight upon him, especially that of suspicion."
"That, Stefan," said Natalie's mother, with courage, "is a small matter, surely, compared with the possibility of your letting this man go to his death unjustly. You would countenance, then, an act of private revenge? That is the use you would let the powers of your Society be put to? That is not what Janecki, what Rausch, what Falevitch looked forward to."
The taunt was quite lost on him; he was calmly regarding Natalie. She had not stirred. After that one outburst of despairing appeal there was no more for her to say or to do. She could wait, mutely, and hear what the fate of her lover was to be.
"Unfortunately," said the general, turning and looking up at the vast pink frontage of the villa, "There are no papers here that one can appeal to. I only secured the temporary use of the villa, as being a more fitting place than some to receive the signorina your daughter. But it is possible the Secretary may remember something; he has a good memory. Will you excuse me, Natalie, for a few moments?"
He strode away toward the house. The mother went over to her daughter, and put a hand on her shoulder.
"Courage, Natalushka! You must not despair yet. Ah, my old friend Stefan has a kind heart; there were tears in his eyes when he turned away from your appeal to him. He does not forget old associates."
Von Zoesch almost immediately returned, still looking preoccupied. He drew Natalie's mother aside a few steps, and said,
"This much I may tell you, Natalie: in the proceedings four were concerned—your husband, Mr. Brand, Beratinsky, Reitzei. What do you know of these last two?"
"I? Alas, Stefan, I know nothing of them!"
"And we here little. They are your husband's appointment. I may also tell you, Natalie, that the Secretary is also of my opinion, that it is very unlikely your husband would be so audacious as to repeat his offence of former years, by conspiring to fix this duty on this man to serve his own interests. It would be too audacious, unless his temper had outrun his reason altogether."
"But you must remember, Stefan," she said, eagerly, "that there was no one in England who knew that former story. He could not imagine that I was to be, unhappily, set free to go to my daughter—that I should be at her side when this trouble fell on her—"
"Nevertheless," said he, gently interrupting her, "you have appealed to us: we will inquire. It will be a delicate affair. If there has been any complicity, any unfairness, to summon these men hither would be to make firmer confederates of them than ever. If one could get at them separately, individually—"
He kept pressing his white mustache into his teeth with his forefinger.
"If Calabressa were not such a talker," he said, absently. "But he has ingenuity, the feather-brained devil."
"Stefan, I could trust everything to Calabressa," she said.
"In the mean time," he said, "I will not detain you. If you remain at the same hotel we shall be able to communicate with you. I presume your carriage is outside?"
"It is waiting for us a little way off."
He accompanied them into the tessellated court-yard, but not to the gate. He bade good-bye to his elder friend; then he took the younger lady's hand and held it, and regarded her.
"Figliuola mia," he said, with a kindly glance, "I pity you if you have to suffer. We will hope for better things: if it is impossible, you have a brave heart."
When they had left he went up the marble staircase and along the empty corridor until he reached a certain room.
"Granaglia, can you tell me where our friend Calabressa may happen to be at this precise moment?"
"At Brindisi, I believe, Excellenza."
"At Brindisi still. The devil of a fellow is not so impatient as I had expected. Ah, well. Have the goodness to send for him, friend Granaglia, and bid him come with speed."
"Most willingly, Excellenza."
One warm, still afternoon Calabressa was walking quickly along the crowded quays of Naples, when he was beset by a more than usually importunate beggar—a youth of about twelve, almost naked.
"Something for bread, signore—for the love of God—my father taken to heaven, my mother starving—bread, signore—"
"To the devil with you!" said Calabressa.
"May you burst!" replied the polite youth, and he tried to kick Calabressa's legs and make off at the same time.
This feat he failed in, so that, as he was departing, Calabressa hit him a cuff on the side of the head which sent him rolling. Then there was a howl, and presently there was a universal tumult of women, calling out, "Ah, the German! ah, the foreigner!" and so forth, and drawing threateningly near. Calabressa sought in his pockets for a handful of small copper coins, turned, threw them high in the air, and did not stay to watch the effect of the shower on the heads of the women, but walked quietly away.
However, in thus suddenly turning, he had caught sight—even with his near-sighted eyes—of an unwholesome-looking young man, pale, clean-shaven, with bushy black hair, whom he recognized. He appeared to pay no attention, but walked quickly on. Taking one or two unnecessary turnings, he became convinced that the young man, as he had suspected, was following him: then, without more ado, and even without looking behind him, he set out for his destination, which was Posilipo.
In due course of time he began to ascend the wooded hill with its villas and walls and cactus-hedges. At a certain turning, where he could not be observed by any one behind him, he turned sharp off to the left, and stood behind a wooden gate; a couple of minutes afterward the young man came along, more rapidly now, for he no doubt fancied that Calabressa had disappeared ahead.
Calabressa stepped out from his hiding-place, went after him, and tapped him on the shoulder. He turned, stared, and endeavored to appear angry and astonished.
"Oh yes, to be sure," said Calabressa, with calm sarcasm, "at your disposition, signore. So we were not satisfied with selling photographs and pebbles to the English on board the steamer; we want to get a little Judas money; we sell ourselves to the weasels, the worms, the vermin—"
"Oh, I assure you, signore—" the shaven-faced youth exclaimed, much more humbly.
"Oh, I assure you too, signore," Calabressa continued, facetiously. "And you, you poor innocent, you have not been with the weasels six weeks when you think you will try your nose in tracking me. Body of Bacchus, it is too insolent!"
"I assure you, signore—"
"Now, behold this, my friend: we must give children like you a warning. If you had been a little older, and not quite so foolish, I should have had you put on the Black List of my friends the Camorristi—you understand? But you—we will cure you otherwise. You know the Englishman's yacht that has come into the Great Harbor—"
"Signore, I beg of you—"
"Beg of the devil!" said Calabressa, calmly. "Between the Englishman's yacht and the Little Mole you will find a schooner moored—her name. La Svezia; do not forget—La Svezia. To-morrow you will go on board of her, ask for the captain, go down below, and beg him to be so kind as to give you twelve stripes—"
"Another word, mouchard, and I make it twenty. He will give you a receipt, which you will sign, and bring to me; otherwise, down goes your name on the list. Which do you prefer? Oh, we will teach some of you young weasels a lesson! I have the honor to wish you a good morning."
Calabressa touched his hat politely, and walked on, leaving the young man petrified with rage and fear.
By-and-by he began to walk more leisurely and with more circumspection, keeping a sharp lookout, as well as his near-sighted eyes allowed, on any passer-by or vehicle he happened to meet. At length, and with the same precautions he had used on a former occasion, he entered the grounds of the villa he had sought out in the company of Gathorne Edwards, and made his way up to the fountain on the little plateau. But now his message had been previously prepared; he dropped it into the receptacle concealed beneath the lip of the fountain, and then descended the steep little terraces until he got round to the entrance of the grotto.
Instead of passing in by this cleft in the rockwork, however, he found awaiting him there the person who had summoned him—the so-called General Von Zoesch. Calabressa was somewhat startled, but he said, "Your humble servant, Excellenza," and removed his cap.
"Keep your hat on your head, friend Calabressa," said the other, good-naturedly; "you are as old as I am."
He seated himself on a projecting ledge of the rockwork, and motioned to Calabressa to do likewise on the other side of the entrance. They were completely screened from observation by a mass of olive and fig trees, to say nothing of the far-stretching orange shrubbery beyond.
"The Council have paid you a high compliment, my Calabressa," the general said, plunging at once into the matter. "They have resolved to intrust you with a very difficult mission."
"It is a great honor."
"You won't have to risk your neck, which will no doubt disappoint you, but you will have to show us whether there is the stuff of a diplomatist in you."
"Oh, as for that, Excellenza," Calabressa said confidently, "one can be a bavard at times, for amusement, for nonsense; and one can at times be silent when there is necessity."
"You know of the affair of Zaccatelli. The agent has been found, as we desired in England. I understand you know him; his name is Brand."
Calabressa uttered an exclamation.
"Excellenza, do you know what you have said? You pierce my heart. Why he of all those in England? He is the betrothed of Natalie's daughter—the Natalie Berezolyi, Excellenza, who married Ferdinand Lind—"
"I know it," said the other, calmly. "I have seen the young lady. She is a beautiful child."
"She is more than that—she is a beautiful-souled child!" said Calabressa, in great agitation, "and she has a tender heart. I tell you it will kill her, Excellenza! Oh, it is infamous! it is not to be thought of!" He jumped to his feet and spoke in a rapid, excited way. "I say it is not to be thought of. I appeal—I, Calabressa—to the honorable the members of the Council: I say that I am ready to be his substitute—they cannot deny me—I appeal to the laws of the Society—"'
"Calm yourself—calm yourself," said the general; but Calabressa would not be calm.
"I will not have my beautiful child have this grief put upon her!—you, Excellenza, will help my appeal to the Council—they cannot refuse me—what use am I to anybody or myself? I say that the daughter of my old friend Natalie shall not have her lover taken from her; it is I, Calabressa, who claim to be his substitute!"
"Friend Calabressa, I desire you to sit down and listen. The story is brief that I have to tell you. This man Brand is chosen by the usual ballot. The young lady does not know for what duty, of course, but believes it will cost him his life. She is in trouble; she recollects your giving her some instructions; what does she do but start off at once for Naples, to put her head right into the den of the black bear Tommaso!"
"Ah, the brave little one! She did not forget Calabressa and the little map, then?"
"I have seen her and her mother."
"Her mother, also? Here, in Naples, now?"
"Great Heaven! What a fool I was to come through Naples and not to know—but I was thinking of that little viper."
"You will now be good enough to listen, my Calabressa."
"I beg your Excellency's pardon a thousand times."
"It appears that both mother and daughter are beset with the suspicion that this duty has been put upon their English friend by unfair means. At first I said to myself these suspicions were foolish; they now appear to me more reasonable. You, at all events, are acquainted with the old story against Ferdinand Lind; you know how he forfeited his life to the Society; how it was given back to him. You would think it impossible he would risk such another adventure. Well, perhaps I wrong him; but there is a possibility; there are powerful reasons, I can gather, why he should wish to get rid of this Englishman."
Calabressa said nothing now, but he was greatly excited.
"We had been urging him about money, Calabressa mio—that I will explain to you. It has been coming in slowest of all from England, the richest of the countries, and just when we had so much need. Then, again, there is a vacancy in the Council, and Lind has a wish that way. What happens? He tries to induce the Englishman to take an officership and give us his fortune; the Englishman refuses; he says then, 'Part from my daughter, and go to America.' The daughter says, 'If he goes, I follow.' You perceive, my friend, that if this story is true, and it is consecutive and minute as I received it, there was a reason for our colleague Lind to be angry, and to be desirous of making it certain that this Englishman who had opposed him should not have his daughter."
"I perceive it well, Excellenza. Meanwhile?"
"Meanwhile, that is all. Only, when an old friend—when one who has such claims on our Society as a Berezolyi naturally has—comes and tells you such a story, you listen with attention and respect. You may believe, or you may not believe; one prefers not to believe when the matter touches upon the faith of a colleague who has been trustworthy for many years. But at the same time, if the Council, being appealed to, and being anxious above all things that no wrong should be done, were to find an agent—prudent, silent, cautious—who might be armed with plenary powers of pardon, for example, supposing there were an accomplice to be bribed—if the Council were to commission such a one as you, my Calabressa, to institute inquiries, and perhaps to satisfy those two appellants that no injustice has been done, you would undertake the task with diligence, with a sense of responsibility, would you not?"
"With joy—with a full heart, Excellenza!" Calabressa exclaimed.
"Oh no, not at all—with prudence and disinterestedness; with calmness and no prejudice; and, above all, with a resolution to conceal from our friend and colleague Lind that any slight of suspicion is being put upon him."
"Oh, you can trust me, Excellenza!" Calabressa said, eagerly.
"Let me do this for the sake of the sweetheart of my old age—that is that beautiful-souled little one; and if I cannot bring her peace and security one way—mind, I go without prejudice—I swear to you I go without bias—I will harm no one even in intention—but this I say, that if I fail that way there is another."
"You have seen the two men, Beratinsky and Reitzei, who were of the ballot along with Lind and the Englishman. To me they are but names. Describe them to me."
"Beratinsky," said Calabressa, promptly, "a bear—surly, pig-headed; Reitzei, a fop—sinuous, petted."
"Which would be the more easily started, for example?" the tall man said, with a smile.
"Oh, your Excellency, leave that to me," Calabressa answered. "Give me no definite instructions: am I not a volunteer?—can I not do as I please, always with the risk that one may knock me over the head if I am impertinent?"
"Well, then, if you leave it to your discretion, friend Calabressa, to your ingenuity, and your desire to have justice without bias, have you money?"
"Not at all, Excellenza."
"The Secretary Granaglia will communicate with you this evening. You can start at once?"
"By the direct train to-morrow morning at seven. Excellenza." Then he added, "Oh, the devil!"
"There was a young fellow, Excellenza, committed the imprudence of dogging my footsteps this afternoon. I know him. I stopped him and referred him to the captain of the schooner La Svezia: he was to bring me the receipt to morrow."
"Never mind," said the general, laughing; "we will look after him when he goes on board. Now do you understand, friend Calabressa, the great delicacy of the mission the Council have intrusted to you? You must be patient, sure, unbiassed; and if, as I imagine, Lind and you were not the best of friends at one time in your life, you must forget all that. You are not going as the avenger of his daughter; you are going as the minister of justice—only you have power behind you; that you can allow to be known indirectly. Do you understand?"
"It is as clear as the noonday skies. Confide in me, Excellenza." The other rose.
"Use speed, my Calabressa. Farewell!"
"One word, Excellenza. If it is not too great a favor, the hotel where my beautiful Natalushka and her mother are staying?"
The other gave him the name of the hotel; and Calabressa, saluting him respectfully, departed, making his way down through the terraces of fruit-trees under the clear twilight skies.
Calabressa walked back to Naples, and to the hotel indicated, which was near the Castello dell' Ovo. No sooner had the hotel porter opened for him the big swinging doors than he recollected that he did not know for whom he ought to ask; but at this moment Natalie came along the corridor, dressed and ready to go out.
"My little daughter!" he exclaimed, taking her by both hands, "did not I say you would soon find me when there was need?"
"Will you come up-stairs and see my mother, Signor Calabressa?" said she. "You know why she and I are together now?—my grandfather is dead."
"Yes, I will go and see your mother," said he, after a second: she did not notice the strange expression of his face during that brief hesitation.
There was a small sitting-room between the two bedrooms; Natalie conducted him into it, and went into the adjoining chamber for her mother. A minute after these two friends and companions of former days met. They held each other's hand in silence for a brief time.
"My hair was not so gray when you last saw me," the worn-faced woman said, at length, with a smile.
Calabressa could not speak at all.
"Mother," the girl said, to break in on this painful embarrassment, "you have not seen Signor Calabressa for so long a time. Will he not stay and dine with us? the table-d'hote, is at half-past six."
"Not the table-d'hote, my little daughter," Calabressa said. "But if one were permitted to remain here, for example—"
"Oh yes, certainly."
"There are many things I wish to speak about; and so little time. To-morrow morning I start for England."
"Most certainly, little daughter. And you have a message, perhaps, for me to carry? Oh, you may let it be cheerful," he said, with his usual gay optimism. "I tell you—I myself, and I do not boast—let it be cheerful! What did I say to you? You are in trouble; I said to you, count upon having friends!"
Calabressa did stay; and they had a kind of meal in this room; and there was a great deal to talk over between the two old friends. But on all matters referring to the moment he preserved a resolute silence. He was not going to talk at the very outset. He was going to England—that was all.
But as he was bidding good-bye to Natalie, he drew her a step or two into the passage.
"Little child," said he, in a low voice, "your mother is suffering because of your sorrow. It is needless. I assure you all will be well: have I spoken in vain before? It is not for one bearing the name that you have to despair."
"Good-bye, then, Signor Calabressa."
"Au revoir, child: is not that better?"
A WEAK BROTHER.
George Brand was sitting alone in these rooms of his, the lamps lit, the table near him covered with papers. He had just parted with two visitors—Molyneux and a certain learned gentleman attached to Owens College—who had come to receive his final plans and hints as to what still lay before them in the north. On leaving, the fresh-colored, brisk-voiced Molyneux had said to him,
"Well, Mr. Brand, seeing you so eager about what has to be done up there, one might wonder at your leaving us and going off pleasuring. But no matter; a man must have his holiday; so I wish you a pleasant journey, and we'll do our best till you come back."
So that also was settled. In fact, he had brought all his affairs up to a point that would enable him to start at any moment. But about Natalie? He had not heard from her through any channel whatever. He had not the least idea whither she had gone. Moreover, he gathered from Reitzei that her father—who, in Reitzei's opinion, could at once have discovered where she was—refused to trouble himself in the matter, and, indeed, would not permit her name to be mentioned in his presence.
He leaned back in his chair with a sigh. Of what value to him now were these carefully calculated suggestions about districts, centres, conveners, and what not? And yet he had appeared deeply interested while his two visitors were present. For the time being the old eagerness had stirred him; the pride he had taken in his own work. But now that was passed from him; he had relinquished his stewardship; and as he absently gazed out into the black night before him, his thoughts drifted far away. He was startled from his reverie by some one knocking at the door. Immediately after Gathorne Edwards entered.
"Waters said I should find you alone," said the tall, pale, blue-eyed student. "I have come to you about Kirski."
"Sit down. Well?"
"It's a bad business," he said, taking a chair, and looking rather gloomy and uncomfortable. "He has taken to drink badly. I have been to him, talked to him, but I have no influence over him, apparently. I thought perhaps you might do something with him."
"Why, I cannot even speak to him!"
"Oh, he is accustomed to make much out of a few words; and I would go with you."
"But what is the occasion of all this? How can he have taken to drink in so short a time?"
"A man can drink himself into a pretty queer state in a very short time when he sets his mind to it," Edwards said. "He has given up his work altogether, and is steadily boozing away the little savings he had made. He has gone back to his blood and kill, too; wants some one to go with him to murder that fellow out in Russia who first of all took his wife, and then beat him and set dogs on him. The fact is, Calabressa's cure has gone all to bits."
"It is a pity. The unfortunate wretch has had enough trouble. But what is the cause of it?"
"It is rather difficult to explain," said Edwards with some embarrassment. "One can only guess, for his brain is muddled, and he maunders. You know Calabressa's flowery, poetical interpretation. It was Miss Lind, in fact, who had worked a miracle. Well, there was something in it. She was kind to him, after he had been cuffed about Europe, and a sort of passion of gratitude took possession of him. Then he was led to believe at that time that—that he might be of service to her or her friends, and he gave up his projects of revenge altogether—he was ready for any sacrifice—and, in fact, there was a project—" Edwards glanced at his companion; but Brand happened at that moment to be looking out of the window.
"Well, you see, all that fell through; and he had to come back to England disappointed; then there was no Calabressa to keep him up to his resolutions: besides that, he found out—how, I do not know—that Miss Lind had left London."
"Oh, he found that out?"
"Apparently. And he says he is of no further use to anybody; and all he wants is to kill the man Michaieloff, and then make an end of himself."
Brand rose at once.
"We must go and see the unfortunate devil, Edwards. His brain never was steady, you know, and I suppose even two or three days' hard drinking has made him wild again. And just as I had prepared a little surprise for him!"
"What?" Edwards asked, as he opened the door.
"I have made him a little bequest that would have produced him about twenty pounds a year, to pay his rent. It will be no kindness to give it to him until we see him straight again."
But Edwards pushed the door to again, and said in a low voice,
"Of course, Mr. Brand, you must know of the Zaccatelli affair?"
Brand regarded him, and said, calmly,
"I do. There are five men in England who know of it; you and I are two of them."
"Well," said Edwards, eagerly, "if such a thing were determined on, wouldn't it have been better to let this poor wretch do it? He would have gloried in it; he had the enthusiasm of the martyr just then; he thought he was to be allowed to do something that would make Miss Lind and her friends forever grateful to him."
"And who put it into his head that Miss Lind knew anything about it?—Calabressa, I suppose."
Edwards colored slightly.
"And it was Calabressa who intrusted such a secret as that to a maniac—"
"Pardon me, Kirski never knew specifically what lay before him; but he was ready for anything. For my own part, I was heartily glad when they sent him back to England. I did not wish to have any hand in such a business, however indirectly; and, indeed, I hope they have abandoned the whole project by this time."
"It might be wiser, certainly," said Brand, with an indifferent air.
"If they go on with it, it will make a fearful noise in Europe," said Edwards, contemplatively. "The assassination of a cardinal! Well, his life has been scandalous enough—but still, his death, in such a way—"
"It will horrify people, will it not?" Brand said, calmly; "and his murderer will be execrated and howled at throughout Europe, no doubt!"
"Well, yes; you see, who is to know the motives?"
"There won't be a single person to say a single word for him," said Brand, absently. "It is an enviable fate, isn't it, for some wretched mortal? No matter, Edwards; we will go and look up this fellow Kirski now."
They went out into the night—it was cold and drizzling—and made their way up into Soho. They knocked at the door of a shabby-looking house; and Kirski's landlady made her appearance. She was very angry when his name was mentioned; of course he was not at home; they would find him in some public-house or other—the animal!
"But he pays his rent, doesn't he?" Brand remonstrated.
Oh yes, he paid his rent. But she didn't like a wild beast in the house. It was decent lodgings she kept; not a Wombwell's Menagerie.
"I am sure he gives you no trouble, ma'am," said Edwards, who had seen something of the meek and submissive way the Russian conducted himself in his lodgings.
This she admitted, but promptly asked how she was to know she mightn't have her throat cut some night? And what was the use of her talking to him, when he didn't know two words of a Christian language?
They gathered from this that the good woman had been lecturing her docile lodger, and had been seriously hurt because of his inattention. However, she at last consented to give them the name of the particular public-house in which he was likely to be found, and they again set off in quest of him.
They found him easily. He was seated in a corner of the crowded and reeking bar-room by himself, nursing a glass of gin-and-water with his two trembling hands. When they entered, he looked up and regarded them with bleared, sunken eyes, evidently recognized them, and then turned away sullenly.
"Tell him I am not come to bully him," said Brand quickly. "Tell him I am come about some work. I want a cabinet made by a first-class workman like himself."
Edwards went forward and put his hand on the man's shoulder and spoke to him for some time; then he turned to Brand.
"He says, 'No use; no use.' He cannot work any more. They won't give him help to kill Pavel Michaieloff. He wishes to die."
"Ask him, then, what the young lady who gave him her portrait will think of him if she hears he is in this condition. Ask him how he has dared to bring her portrait into a place like this."
When this was conveyed to Kirski, he seemed to arouse himself somewhat; he even talked eagerly for a few seconds; then he turned away again, as if he did not wish to be seen.
"He says," Edwards continued, "that he has not, that he would not bring that portrait into any such place. He was afraid it might be found—it might be taken from him. He made a small casket of oak, carved by his own hands, and lined it with zinc; he put the photograph in it, and hid himself in the trees of St. James's Park—at least, I imagine that St. James's Park is what he means—at night. Then he buried it there. He knows the place. When he has killed Michaieloff he will come back and dig it up."
"The poor devil—his brain is certainly going, drink or no drink. What is to be done with him, Edwards?"
"He says the young lady has gone away. He cares for nothing. He is of no use. He despairs of getting enough money to take him back to Russia."
After a great deal of persuasion, however, they got him to leave the public-house with them and return to his lodgings. They got him some tea and some bread-and-butter, and made him swallow both. Then Edwards, under his friend's instructions, proceeded to impress on Kirski that the young lady was only away from London for a short time: that she would be greatly distressed if she were to hear he had been misconducting himself; that, if he returned to his work on the following morning, he would find that his master would overlook his absence; and that finally, he was to abandon his foolish notions about going to Russia, for he would find no one to assist him; whereas, on the other hand, if he went about proclaiming that he was about to commit a crime, he would be taken by the police and shut up. All this, and a great deal more, they tried to impress on him; and Edwards promised to call the next evening and see how he was getting on.
It was late when Brand and Edwards again issued out into the wet night; and Edwards, having promised to post a line to Kirski's employers, so that they should get it in the morning, said good-bye, and went off to his own lodgings. Brand walked slowly home through the muddy streets. He preferred the glare and the noise to the solitude of his own rooms. He even stood aimlessly to watch a theatre come out; the people seemed so careless and joyous—calling to each other—making feeble jokes—passing away under their umbrellas into the wet and shining darkness.
But at length, without any definite intention, he found himself at the foot of the little thoroughfare in which he lived; and he was about to open the door with his latch-key when out of the dusk beyond there stepped forth a tall figure. He was startled, it is true, by the apparition of this tall, white-haired man in the voluminous blue cloak, the upturned hood of which half concealed his face, and he turned with a sort of instinct of anger to face him.
"Monsieur mon frere, you have arrived at last!" said the stranger, and instantly he recognized in the pronunciation of the French the voice of Calabressa.
"What!" he said; "Calabressa?"
The other put a finger on his arm.
"Hush!" he said. "It is a great secret, my being here; I confide in you. I would not wait in your rooms—my faith no! for I said to myself, 'What if he brings home friends who will know me, who will ask what the devil Calabressa is doing in this country.'"
Brand had withdrawn his hand from the lock.
"Calabressa," he said, quickly, "you, if anybody knows, must know where Natalie and her mother are. Tell me!"
"I will directly; but may I point out to you, my dear Monsieur Brand, that it rains—that we might go inside? Oh yes, certainly, I will tell you when we can say a word in secret, in comfort. But this devil of a climate! What should I have done if I had not bought myself this cloak in Paris? In Paris it was cold and wet enough; but one had nothing like what you have here. Sapristi! my fingers are frozen."
Brand hurried him up-stairs, put him into an easy-chair, and stirred up the fire.
"Now," said he, impatiently—"now, my dear Calabressa, your news!"
Calabressa pulled out a letter.
Brand tore open the envelope; these were the contents:
* * * * *
"Dearest,—This is to adjure you not to leave England for the present—not till you hear from me—or until we return. Have patience, and hope. You are not forgotten. My mother sends you her blessing.
* * * * *
"But there is no address!" he exclaimed. "Where are they?"
"Where are they? It is no secret, do you see? They are in Naples."
"Oh, I assure you, my dear friend, it is a noble heart, a brave heart, that loves you. Many a day ago I said to her, 'Little child, when you are in trouble, go to friends who will welcome you; say you are the daughter of Natalie Berezolyi; say to them that Calabressa sent you.' And you thought she was in no trouble! Ah, did she not tell me of the pretty home you had got for the poor mother who is my old friend? did she not tell me how you thought they were to be comfortable there, and take no heed of anything else? But you were mistaken. You did not know her. She said,'My betrothed is in danger: I will take Calabressa at his word: before any one can hinder me, or interfere, I will go and appeal, in the name of my family, in the name of myself!' Ah, the brave child!"
"But appeal to whom?" said Brand, breathlessly.
"To the Council, my friend!" said Calabressa with exultation.
"But gracious heavens!" Brand cried, with his hand nervously clutching the arm of his chair, "is the secret betrayed, then? Do they think I will shelter myself behind a woman?"
"She could betray no secret," Calabressa said, triumphantly, "she herself not knowing it, do you not perceive? But she could speak bravely!"
"And the result?"
"Who knows what that may be? In the mean time, this is the result—I am here!"
At another moment this assumption of dignity would have been ludicrous; but Brand took no heed of the manner of his companion; his heart was beating wildly. And even when his reason forced him to see how little he could expect from this intervention—when he remembered what a decree of the Council was, and how irrevocable the doom he had himself accepted—still the thought uppermost in his mind was not of his own safety or danger, but rather of her love and devotion, her resolve to rescue him, her quick and generous impulse that knew nothing of fear. He pictured her to himself in Naples, calling upon this nameless and secret power, that every man around him dreaded, to reverse its decision! And then the audacity of her bidding him hope! He could not hope; he knew more than she did. But his heart was full of love and of gratitude as he thought of her.
"My dear friend," said Calabressa, lowering his voice, "my errand is one of great secrecy. I have a commission which I cannot altogether explain to you. But in the mean time you will be so good as to give me—in extense, with every particular—the little history of how you were appointed to—to undertake a certain duty."
"Unfortunately, I cannot," Brand said, calmly; "these are things one is not permitted to talk about."
"But I must insist on it, my dear friend."
"Then I must insist on refusing you."
"You are trustworthy. No matter: here is something which I think will remove your suspicions, my good friend—or shall we not rather say your scruples?"
He took from his pocket-book a card, and placed it somewhat ostentatiously on the table. Brand examined it, and then stared at Calabressa in surprise.
"You come with the authority of the Council?"
"By the goodness of Heaven," Calabressa exclaimed with a laugh, "you have arrived at the truth this time!"
There was no mistaking the fact that Calabressa had come armed with ample authority from the Council, and yet it was with a strange reluctance that Brand forced himself to answer the questions that Calabressa proceeded to put to him. He had already accepted his doom. The bitterness of it was over. He would rather have let the past be forgotten altogether, and himself go forward blindly to the appointed end. Why those needless explanations and admissions?
Moreover, Calabressa's questions, which had been thought over during long railway journeys, were exceedingly crafty. They touched here and there on certain small points, as if he were building up for himself a story. But at last Brand said, by way of protest,
"Look here, Calabressa. I see you are empowered to ask me any questions you like—and I am quite willing to answer—about the business of the Council. But really, don't you see, I would rather not speak of private matters. What can the Council want to know about Natalie Lind? Leave her out of it, like a good fellow."
"Oh yes, my dear Monsieur Brand," said Calabressa, with a smile, "leave her out of it, truly, when she has gone to the Council; when the Council have said, 'Child, you have not appealed to us for nothing;' when it is through her that I have travelled all through the cold and wet, and am now sitting here. Remember this, my friend, that the beautiful Natalushka is now a—what do you call it?—a ward" (Calabressa put this word in English into the midst of his odd French), "and a ward of a sufficiently powerful court, I can assure you, monsieur! Therefore, I say, I cannot leave the beautiful child out. She is of importance to me; why am I here otherwise? Be considerate, my friend; it is not impertinence; it is not curiosity."
Then he proceeded with his task; getting, in a roundabout, cunning, shrewd way, at a pretty fair version of what had occurred. And he was exceedingly circumspect. He endeavored, by all sorts of circumlocutions, to hide from Brand the real drift of his inquiry. He would betray suspicion of no one. His manner was calm, patient, almost indifferent. All this time Brand's thoughts were far away. He was speaking to Calabressa, but he was thinking of Naples.
But when they came to Brand's brief description of what took place in Lisle Street on the night of the casting of the lot, Calabressa became greatly excited, though he strove to appear perfectly calm.
"You are sure," he said, quickly, "that was precisely what happened?"
"As far as I know," said Brand, carelessly. "But why go into it? If I do not complain, why should any one else?"
"Did I say that any one complained?" observed the astute Calabressa.
"Then why should any one wish to interfere? I am satisfied. You do not mean to say, Calabressa, that any one over there thinks that I am anxious to back out of what I have undertaken—that I am going down on my knees and begging to be let off? Well, at all events, Natalie does not think that," he added, as if it did not matter much what any other thought.
Calabressa was silent; but his eyes were eager and bright, and he was quickly tapping the palm of his left hand with the forefinger of the right. Then he regarded Brand with a sharp, inquisitive look. Then he jumped to his feet.
"Good-night, my friend," he said, hurriedly.
But Brand rose also, and sought to detain him.
"No, no, my good Calabressa, you are not going yet; you have kept me talking for your amusement; now it is your turn. You have not yet told me about Natalie and her mother."
"They are well—they are indeed well, I assure you," said Calabressa, uneasily. He was clearly anxious to get away. By this time he had got hold of his cloak and swung it round his shoulders.
"Calabressa, sit down, and tell me something about Natalie. What made her undertake such a journey? Is she troubled? Is she sad? I thought her life was full of interest now, her mother being with her."
Calabressa had got his cap, and had opened the door.
"Another time, dear Monsieur Brand, I will sit down and tell you all about the beautiful, brave child, and my old friend her mother. Yes, yes—another time—to-morrow—next day. At present one is overwhelmed with affairs, do you see?"
So saying, he forced Brand to shake hands with him, and went out, shutting the door behind him.
But no sooner had he got into the street than the eager, talkative, impulsive nature of the man, so long confined, broke loose. He took no heed that it was raining hard. He walked fast; he talked aloud to himself in his native tongue, in broken interjectional phrases; occasionally he made use of violent gestures, which were not lessened in their effect by the swaying cape of his cloak.
"Ah, those English—those English!" he was excitedly saying—"such children!—blue, clear eyes that see nothing—the devil! why should they meddle in such affairs? To play at such a game!—fool's mate; scholar's mate; asses and idiots' mate—they have scarcely got a pawn out, and they are wondering what they will do, when whizz! along comes the queen, and she and the bishop have finished all the fine combinations before they were ever begun! And you, you others, imps of hell, to play that old foolish game again! But take care, my friends, take care; there is one watching you, one waiting for you, who does not speak, but who strikes! Ah, it is a pretty game; you, you sullen brute; you, you fop and dandy; but when you are sitting silent round the board, behold a dagger flashes down and quivers into the wood! No wonder your eyes burn! you do not know whence it has come? But the steel-blade quivers; is it a warning?"
He laughed aloud, but there were still omnibuses and cabs in the street; so he was not heard. Indeed, the people who were on the pavement were hurrying past to get out of the rain, and took no notice of the old albino in the voluminous cloak.
"Natalushka," said he, quite as if he were addressing some one before him, "do you know that I am trudging through the mud of this infernal city all for you? And you, little sybarite, are among the fine ladies of the reading-room at the hotel, and listening to music, and the air all scented around you. Never mind; if only I had a little bird that could fly to you with a message—ah, would you not have pleasant dreams to-night? Did I not tell you to rely on Calabressa? He chatters to you; he tries to amuse you; but he is not always Policinella. No, not always Policinella: sometimes he is silent and cunning; sometimes—what do you think?—he is a conjurer. Oh yes, you are not seen, you are not heard; but when you have them round the board, whirr! comes the gleaming blade and quivers in the wood! You look round; the guilty one shakes with the palsy; his wits go; his startled tongue confesses. Then you laugh; you say, 'That is well done;' you say, 'Were they wrong in giving this affair to Calabressa?'"
Now, whether it was that his rapid walking helped to relieve him of this over-excitement, or whether it was that the soaking rain began to make him uncomfortable, he was much more staid in demeanor when he got up to the little lane in Oxford Street where the Culturverein held its meetings. Of course, he did not knock and demand admission. He stopped some way down the street, on the other side, where he found shelter from the rain in a door-way, and whence he could readily observe any one coming out from the hall of the Verein. Then he succeeded in lighting a cigarette.
It was a miserable business, this waiting in the cold, damp night air; but sometimes he kept thinking of how he would approach Reitzei in the expected interview; and sometimes he thought of Natalie; and again, with his chilled and dripping fingers he would manage to light a cigarette. Again and again the door of the hall was opened, and this or the other figure came out from the glare of the gas into the dark street; but so far no Reitzei. It was now nearly one in the morning.
Finally, about a quarter past one, the last batch of boon companions came out, and the lights within were extinguished. Calabressa followed this gay company, who were laughing and joking despite the rain, for a short way; but it was clear that neither Beratinsky nor Reitzei was among them. Then he turned, and made his way to his own lodgings, where he arrived tired, soaked through, but not apparently disheartened.
Next morning he was up betimes, and at a fairly early hour walked along to Coventry Street, where he took up his station at the east corner of Rupert Street, so that he could see any one going westward, himself unseen. Here he was more successful. He had not been there ten minutes when Reitzei passed. Calabressa hastened after him, overtook him, and tapped him on the shoulder.
"Ah, Calabressa!" said Reitzei, surprised, but in noway disconcerted.
"I wish to speak with you," said Calabressa, himself a little agitated, though he did not show it.
"Certainly; come along. Mr. Lind will arrive soon."
"No, alone. I wish to speak to you alone."
Calabressa looked around. The only place of shelter he saw was a rather shabby restaurant, chiefly used as a supper-room, and at this moment having the appearance of not being yet woke up. Reitzei was in a compliant mood. He suffered himself to be conducted into this place, to the astonishment of one or two unwashed-looking waiters, who were seated and reading the previous evening's papers. Calabressa and Reitzei sat down at one of the small tables; the former ordered some coffee, the latter a bottle of soda-water.
By this time Calabressa had collected himself for the part he was about to play.
"Well, my friend," said he, cheerfully, "what news? When is Europe to hear the fate of the Cardinal?"
"I don't know; I know very little about it," said Reitzei, glancing at him rather suspiciously.
"It is a terrible business," said Calabressa, reflectively, "a decree of the Council. You would think that one so powerful, so well protected, would be able to escape, would you not? But he himself knows better. He knows he is as powerless as you might be, for example, or myself."
"Oh, as for that," said Reitzei, boldly, "he knows he has deserved it: what more? He has had his little fling, now comes the settlement of the score."
"And I hear that our friend Brand is to be the instrument of justice: how strange! He has not been so long with us."
"That is Mr. Lind's affair: it has nothing to do with me," said Reitzei, shortly.
"Well," said Calabressa, toying with his coffee-cup. "I hope I shall never be tempted to do anything that might lead the Council to condemn me. Fancy such a life; every moment expecting some one to step up behind you with a knife or a pistol, and the end sure! I would take Provana's plan. The poor devil; as soon as he heard he had been condemned he could not bear living. He never thought of escape: a few big stones in the pockets of his coat, and over he slips into the Arno. And Mesentskoff: you remember him? His only notion of escape was to give himself up to the police—twenty-five years in the mines. I think Provana's plan was better."
Reitzei became a little uneasy, or perhaps only impatient.
"Well, Calabressa," he said, "one must be getting along to one's affairs—"
"Oh yes, yes, truly," Calabressa said. "I only wished to know a little more about the Cardinal. You see he cannot give himself up like Mesentskoff, though he might confess to a hundred worse things than the Russian ever did. Provana—well, you know the Society has always been inexorable with regard to its own officers: and rightly, too, Reitzei, is it not so? If one finds malversation of justice among those in a high grade, should not the punishment be exemplary? The higher the power, the higher the responsibility. You, for example, are much too shrewd a man to risk your life by taking any advantage of your position as one of the officers—"
"I don't understand you, Calabressa," the other said, somewhat hotly.
"I only meant to say," Calabressa observed, carelessly, "that the punishment for malversation of justice on the part of an officer is so terrible, so swift, and so sure, that no one but a madman would think of running the risk—"
"Yes, but what has that to do with me?" Reitzei said, angrily.
"Nothing, my dear friend, nothing," said Calabressa, soothingly. "But now, about this selection of Mr. Brand—"
Reitzei turned rather pale for a second; but said instantly, and with apparent anger,
"I tell you that is none of my business. That is Mr. Lind's business. What have I to do with it?"
"Do not be so impatient, my friend," said Calabressa, looking at his coffee. "We will say that, as usual, there was a ballot. All quite fair. No man wishes to avoid his duty. It is the simplest thing in the world to mark one of your pieces of paper with a red mark: whoever receives the marked paper undertakes the commission. All is quite fair, I say. Only you know, I dare say, the common, the pitiful trick of the conjurer who throws a pack of cards on the table, backs up. You take one, look at it privately, return it, and the cards are shuffled. Without lifting the cards at all he tells you that the one you selected was the eight of diamonds: why? It is no miracle: all the cards are eight of diamonds; though you, you poor innocent, do not know that. It is a wretched trick," added Calabressa, coolly.
Reitzei drank off the remainder of his soda-water at a gulp. He stared at Calabressa in silence, afraid to speak.
"My dear friend Reitzei," said Calabressa, at length raising his eyes and fixing them on his companion, "you could not be so insane as to play any trick like that?—having four pieces of paper, for example, all marked red, the marks under the paper? You would not enter into any such conspiracy, for you know, friend Reitzei, that the punishment is—death!"
The man had turned a ghastly gray-green color. He was apparently choking with thirst, though he had just finished the soda-water. He could not speak.
Calabressa calmly waited for him; but in his heart he was saying exultingly, "Ha! the dagger quivers in the board: his eyes are starting from his head; is it Calabressa or Cagliostro that has paralyzed him?"
At length the wretched creature opposite him gasped out,
But he could say no more. He motioned to a waiter to bring him some soda-water.
"Yes, Beratinsky?" said Calabressa, calmly regarding the livid face.
"—has betrayed us!" he said, with trembling lips. In fact, there was no fight in him at all, no angry repudiation; he was helpless with this sudden bewilderment of fear.
"Not quite," said Calabressa; and he now spoke in a low, eager voice. "It is for you to save yourself by forestalling him. It is your one chance; otherwise the decree; and good-bye to this world for you! See—look at this card—I say it is your only chance, friend Reitzei—for I am empowered by the Council to promise you, or Beratinsky, or any one, a free pardon on confession. Oh, I assure you the truth is clear: has not one eyes? You, poor devil, you cannot speak: shall I go to Beratinsky and see whether he can speak?"
"What must I do—what must I do?" the other gasped, in abject terror. Calabressa, regarding this exhibition of cowardice, could not help wondering how Lind had allowed such a creature to associate with him.
Then Calabressa, sure of victory, began to breathe more freely. He assumed a lofty air.
"Trust in me, friend Reitzei. I will instruct you. If you can persuade the Council of the truth of your story, I promise you they will absolve you from the operations of a certain Clause which you know of. Meanwhile you will come to my lodgings and write a line to Lind, excusing yourself for the day; then this evening I dare say it will be convenient for you to start for Naples. Oh, I assure you, you owe me thanks: you did not know the danger you were in; hereafter you will say, 'Well, it was no other than Calabressa who pulled me out of that quagmire.'"
A few minutes thereafter Calabressa was in a telegraph-office, and this was the message he despatched:
* * * * *
"Colonna, London: to Bartolotti, Vicolo Isotta, No. 15, Naples. Ridotto will arrive immediately, colors down. Send orders for Luigi and Bassano to follow."
* * * * *
"It is a bold stroke," he was saying to himself, as he left the office, "but I have run some risks in my time. What is one more or less?"
This scheme of Calabressa's had been so rapidly conceived and put in execution, that he had had no time to think of its possible or certain consequences, in the event of his being successful. His immediate and sole anxiety was to make sure of his captive. There was always the chance that a frightened and feeble creature like Reitzei might double back; he might fly to Lind and Beratinsky, and seek security in a new compact; for who could prove any thing if the three were to maintain their innocence? However, as Calabressa shrewdly perceived, Reitzei was in the dark as to how much the Council knew already. Moreover, he had his suspicions of Beratinsky. If there was to be a betrayal, he was clearly resolved to have the benefit of it. Nevertheless, Calabressa did not lose sight of him for a moment. He took him to his, Calabressa's lodgings; kept assuring him that he ought to be very grateful for being thus allowed to escape; got him to write and despatch a note to Lind, excusing himself for that day and the next, and then proceeded to give him instructions as to what he should do in Naples. These instructions, by-the-way, were entirely unnecessary; it is no part of Calabressa's plan to allow Reitzei to arrive in Naples alone.
After a mid-day meal, Calabressa and Reitzei walked up to the lodgings of the latter, where he got a few travelling things put together. By-and-by they went to the railway station, Calabressa suggesting that it was better for Reitzei to get away from London as soon as possible. The old albino saw his companion take his seat in the train for Dover, and then turned away and re-entered the busy world of the London streets.
The day was fine after the rain; the pavements were white and dry; he kept in the sunlight for the sake of the warmth; but he had not much attention for the sights and sounds around him. Now that this sudden scheme promised to be entirely successful, he could consider the probable consequences of that success; and, as usual, his first thought was about Natalie.
"Poor child—poor child!" he said to himself, rather sadly. "How could she tell how this would end? If she saves the life of her lover, it is at the cost of the life of her father. The poor child!—must misfortune meet her whichever way she turns?"
And then, too, some touch of compunction or even remorse entered into his own bosom. He had been so eager in the pursuit? he had been so anxious to acquit himself to the satisfaction of the Council, that he had scarcely remembered that his success would almost certainly involve the sacrifice of one who was at least an old colleague. Ferdinand Lind and Calabressa had never been the very best of friends; during one period, indeed, they had been rivals; but that had been forgotten in the course of years, and what Calabressa now remembered was that Lind and he had at least been companions in the old days.
"Seventeen years ago," he was thinking, "he forfeited his life to the Society, and they gave it back to him. They will not pardon him this time. And who is to take the news to Natalie and the beautiful brave child? Ah, what will she say? My God, is there no happiness for any one in this world?"
He was greatly distressed; but in his distress he became desperate. He would not look that way at all. He boldly justified himself for what he had done, and strove to regard it with satisfaction. What if both Lind and Beratinsky were to suffer; had they not merited any punishment that might befall them? Had they not compassed the destruction of an innocent man? Would it have been better, then, that George Brand should have become the victim of an infamous conspiracy? Fiat justitia!—no matter at what cost. Natalie must face the truth. Better that the guilty should suffer than the innocent. And he, Calabressa, for one, was not going to shirk any responsibility for what might happen. He had obeyed the orders of the Council. He had done his duty: that was enough.
He forced himself not to think of Natalie, and of the dismay and horror with which she would learn of one of the consequences of her appeal. This was a matter between men—to be settled by men: if the consciences of women were tender, it could not be helped. Calabressa walked faster and faster, as it he were trying to get away from something that followed and annoyed him. He pretended to himself that he was deeply interested in a shop-window here or there; occasionally he whistled; he sung "Vado a Napoli in barchetta" with forced gayety; he twisted his long white moustache, and then he made his way down to Brand's rooms.
Here he was also very gay.
"Now, my dear Monsieur Brand, to-day I have idleness; to-day I will talk to you; yesterday I could not."
"Unfortunately," said Brand, "our positions are reversed now, for here is a letter from Lind wanting me to go up to Lisle Street. It seems Reitzei has had to go off into the country, leaving a lot of correspondence—"
"You are, then, on good terms with Lind?" Calabressa interposed, quickly.
"Yes; why not?" said Brand, with a stare.
"I, also—I say, why not? It is excellent. Then you have no time for my chatter?" said Calabressa, carelessly regarding the open letter.
"At least you can tell me something about Natalie and her mother. Are they well? What hotel are they at?"
"Yes, yes, my friend Monsieur Brand, you say, 'Are they well?' What you mean is, 'What has taken them to Naples?' Bien, you are right to wonder; you will not have to wonder long. A little patience; you will hear something; do not be surprised. And you have no message, for example, by way of reply to the letter I brought you?"
"You are returning to Naples, then?"
"To-night. I will take a message for you: if you have no time now, send it to me at Charing Cross. Meanwhile, I take my leave."
Calabressa rose, but was persuaded to resume his seat.
"I see," said he, again laughing, "that you have a little time to hear about the two wanderers. Oh, they are in a good hotel, I assure you; pretty rooms; you look over to Capri; quite near you the Castello dell' Ovo; and underneath your windows the waves—a charming view! And the little Natalushka, she has not lost her spirits: she says to me, 'Dear Mr. Calabressa, will you have the goodness to become my champion?' I say to her, 'Against all the world!' 'Oh no,' she answers, 'not quite so much as that. It is a man who sells agates and pebbles, and such things; and no matter when I go out, he will follow me, and thrust himself before me. Dear Mr. Calabressa, I do not want agates and pebbles, and he is more importunate than all the others put together; and the servants of the hotel can do nothing with him.' Oh, I assure you, it would have made you laugh—her pretence of gravity! I said nothing—not I; what is the use of making serious promises over trifles? But when I went out I encountered the gentleman with the agates and pebbles. 'Friend,' said I, 'a word with you. Skip, dance, be off with you to the steps of some other hotel; your presence is not agreeable here.' 'Who are you?' said he, naturally. 'No matter,' said I; 'but do you wish to be presented with two dozen of the school-master's sweetmeats?' 'Who are you?' said he again. Then I took him by the ear and whispered something to him. By the blood of Saint Peter, Monsieur Brand, you should have heard the quick snap of his box, and seen the heels of him as he darted off like an antelope! I tell you the grave-faced minx, that mocking Natalushka, who makes fun of old people like me—well, she shall not any more be troubled with agates and pebbles!"
"Then she is quite cheerful and happy?" said Brand, somewhat wondering.
"Sometimes," Calabressa said, more gravely. "One cannot always be anxious; one has glimpses of hope; then the spirit rises; the eyes laugh. You, for example, you do not seem much cast down?"
Brand avoided his inquisitive look, and merely said,
"One must take things as one finds them. There is no use repining over what happens."
Calabressa now rose and took his cap; then he laid it down on the table again.
"One moment before I go, my dear Monsieur Brand. I told you to expect news; perhaps you will not understand. Shall I show you something to help? Regard this: it is only a little trick; but it may help you to understand when the news comes to you."
He took from his pocket a piece of white paper, square, and with apparently nothing on it. He laid it on the table, and produced a red pencil.
"May I trouble you for a small pair of scissors, my dear friend?"
Brand stepped aside to a writing-desk, and brought him the scissors; he was scarcely thinking of Calabressa, at all; he was thinking of the message he would send to Naples.
Calabressa slowly and carefully cut the piece of paper into four squares, and proceeded to fold these up. Brand looked on, it is true, but with little interest; and he certainly did not perceive that his companion had folded three of these pieces with the under side inward, the fourth with the upper side inward, while this had the rough edges turned in a different direction from the other three.
"Now, Mr. Brand," said Calabressa, calmly, "if one were drawing lots, for example, what more simple than this? I take one of these pieces—you see there is nothing on it—I print a red cross with my pencil; there, it is folded again, and they all go into my cap."
"Enough, Calabressa," Brand said, impatiently; "you show me that you have questioned me closely enough. There is enough said about it."
"I ask your pardon, my dear friend, there is not," said Calabressa, politely; "for this is what I have to say now: draw one of the pieces of paper."
Brand turned away.
"It is not a thing to be gone over again, I tell you; I have had enough of it; let it rest."
"It must not rest. I beg of you—my friend, I insist—"
He pressed the cap on him. Brand, to get rid of him, drew one of the papers and tossed it on to the table. Calabressa took it up, opened it, and showed him the red cross.
"Yes, you are again unfortunate, my dear Monsieur Brand. Fate pursues you, does it not? But wait one moment. Will you open the other three papers?"
As Brand seemed impatient, Calabressa himself took them out and opened them singly before him. On each and all was the same red mark.
But now Brand was indifferent no longer
"What do you mean, Calabressa?" he said, quickly.
"I mean," said Calabressa, regarding him, "that one might prepare a trick by which you would not have much chance of escape."
Brand caught him by the arm.
"Do you mean that these others—" He could not complete the sentence; his brain was in a whirl; was this why Natalie had sent him that strange message of hope?
Calabressa released himself, and took his cap, and said,
"I can tell you nothing, my dear friend—nothing. My lips are sealed for the present. But surely one is permitted to show you a common little trick with bits of paper!"