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Full Online Book HomeLong StoriesSunrise - Chapter 36. The Velvet Glove
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Sunrise - Chapter 36. The Velvet Glove Post by :codebluenj Category :Long Stories Author :William Black Date :May 2012 Read :2025

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Sunrise - Chapter 36. The Velvet Glove

CHAPTER XXXVI. THE VELVET GLOVE

Ferdinand Lind sat alone, after Gathorne Edwards had gone, apparently deep buried in thought. He leaned forward over his desk, his head resting on his left hand, while in his right hand he held a pencil, with which he was mechanically printing letters on a sheet of blotting-paper before him. These letters, again and again repeated, formed but one phrase: THE VELVET GLOVE. It was as if he were perpetually reminding himself, during the turnings and twistings of his sombre speculations, of the necessity of being prudent and courteous and suave. It was as if he were determined to imprint the caution on his brain--drilling it into himself--so that in no possible emergency could it be forgotten. But as his thoughts went farther afield, he began to play with the letters, as a child might. They began to assume decorations. THE VELVET GLOVE appeared surrounded with stars; again furnished with duplicate lines; again breaking out into rays. At length he rose, tore up the sheet of blotting-paper, and rung a hand-bell twice.

Reitzei appeared.

"Where will Beratinsky be this evening?"

"At the Culturverein: he sups there."

"You and he must be here at ten. There is business of importance."

He walked across the room, and took up his hat and stick. Perhaps at this moment the caution he had been drilling into himself suggested some further word. He turned to Reitzei, who had advanced to take his place at the desk.

"I mean if that is quite convenient to you both," he said, courteously. "Eleven o'clock, if you please, or twelve?"

"Ten will be quite convenient," Reitzei said.

"The business will not take long."

"Then we can return to the Culturverein: it is an exhibition night: one would not like to be altogether absent."

These sombre musings had consumed some time. When Lind went out he found it had grown dark; the lamps were lit; the stream of life was flowing westward. But he seemed in no great hurry. He chose unfrequented streets; he walked slowly; there was less of the customary spring and jauntiness of his gait. In about half an hour he had reached the door of Madame Potecki's house.

He stood for some seconds there without ringing. Then, as some one approached, he seemed waken out of a trance. He rung sharply, and the summons was almost immediately answered.

Madame Potecki was at home, he learned, but she was dining.

"Never mind," said he, abruptly: "she will see me. Go and ask her."

A couple of minutes thereafter he was shown into a small parlor, where Madame Potecki had just risen to receive him; and by this time a singular change had come over his manner.

"I beg your pardon--I beg a thousand pardons, my dear Madame Potecki," said he, in the kindest way, "for having interrupted you. Pray continue. I shall make sure you forgive me only if you continue. Ah, that is well. Now I will take a chair also."

Madame Potecki had again seated herself, certainly; but she was far too much agitated by this unexpected visit to be able to go on with her repast. She was alarmed about Natalie.

"You are surprised, no doubt, at my coming to see you," said he, cheerfully and carelessly, "so soon after you were kind enough to call on me. But it is only about a trifle; I assure you, my dear Madame Potecki, it is only about a trifle, and I must therefore insist on your not allowing your dinner to get cold."

"But if it is about Natalie--"

"My dear madame, Natalie is very well. There is nothing to alarm you. Now you will go on with your dinner, and I will go on with my talking."

Thus constrained, madame again addressed herself to the small banquet spread before her, which consisted of a couple of sausages, some pickled endive, a piece of Camembert cheese, and a tiny bottle of Erlauer. Mr. Lind turned his chair to the fire, put his feet on the fender, and lay back. He was rather smartly dressed this evening, and he was pleasant in manner.

"Natalie ought to be grateful to you, madame," said he lightly, "for your solicitude about her. It is not often one finds that in one who is not related by blood."

"I have no one now left in the world to love but herself," said madame; "and then you see, my dear friend Lind, her position appeals to one: it is sad that she has no mother."

"Yes, yes," said Lind, with a trifle of impatience. "Now you were good enough to come and tell me this afternoon, madame, about that foolish little romance that Natalie has got into her head. It was kind of you; it was well-intentioned. And after all, although that wish of hers to go to America can scarcely be serious, it is but natural that romantic ideas should get into the head of a younger girl--"

"Did not I say that to her?" exclaimed Madame Potecki, eagerly; "and almost in these words too. And did not I say to her, 'Ah, my child, you must take care; you must take care!'"

"That also was good advice," said Lind, courteously; "and no doubt Natalie laid it to her heart. No, I am not afraid of her doing anything very wild or reckless. She is sensible; she thinks; she has not been brought up in an atmosphere of sentiment. One may say this or that on the spur of the moment, when one is excited; but when it comes to action, one reasons, one sees what one's duty is. Natalie may have said something to you, madame, about going to America, but not with any serious intention, believe me."

"Perhaps not," said Madame Potecki, with considerable hesitation.

"Very well, then," said Mr. Lind, as he rose, and stood before the chimney-piece mirror, and arranged the ends of his gracefully tied neckerchief. "We come to another point. It was very kind of you, my dear madame, to bring me the news--to tell me something of that sort had been said; but you know what ill-natured people will remark. You get no appreciation. They call you tale-bearer!"

Madame colored slightly.

"It is ungenerous; it is not a fair requital of kindness; but that is what is said," he continued. "Now, I should not like any friend of Natalie's to incur such a charge on her account, do you perceive, madame? And, in these circumstances, do you not think that it would be better for both you and me to consider that you did not visit me this afternoon; that I know nothing of what idle foolishness Natalie has been talking? Would not that be better? As for me, I am dumb."

"Oh, very well, my dear friend," said madame, quickly. "I would not for the world have Natalie or any one think that I was a mischief-maker--oh no! And did I not promise to you that I should say nothing of my having called on you to-day? It is already a promise."

He turned round and regarded her.

"Precisely so," he said. "You did promise; it was kind of you; and for myself, you may rely on my discretion. Your calling on me--what you repeated to me--all that is obliterated: you understand?"

Madame Potecki understood that very well: but she could not quite make out why he should have come to her this evening, apparently with no object beyond that of reminding her of her promise to say nothing of her visit to Lisle Street.

He lifted his hat from an adjacent chair.

"Now I will leave you to finish your dinner in quiet. You forgive me for interrupting you, do you not? And you will remember, I am sure, not to mention to any one about your having called on me to-day? As for me, it is all wiped out: I know nothing. Adieu, and thanks."

He shook hands with her in a very friendly manner, and then left, saying he could open the outer door for himself.

He got home in time for dinner: he and Natalie dined together, and he was particularly kind to her; he talked in Magyar, which was his custom when he wished to be friendly and affectionate; he made no reference to George Brand whatsoever.

"Natalie," said he, casually, "it was not fair that you were deprived of a holiday this year. You know the reason--there were too many important things going forward. But it is not yet too late. You must think about it--think where you would like to go for two or three weeks."

She did not answer. It was on that morning that she had placed her written offer in her lover's hands; so far there had been no reply from him.

"And Madame Potecki," her father continued; "she is not very rich; she has but little change. Why not take her with you instead of Anneli?"

"I should like to take her away for a time," said the girl, in a low voice. "She lives a monotonous life; but she has always her pupils."

"Some arrangement could be made with them, surely," her father said, lightly; and then he added, "Paris is always the safest place to go to when one is in doubt. There you are independent of the weather; there are so many things to see and to do if it rains. Will you think of it, Natalushka?"

"Yes, papa," she said, though she felt rather guilty. But she was so grateful to have her father talk to her in this friendly way again, after the days of estrangement that had passed, that she could not but pretend to fall in with his schemes.

"And I will tell you another thing," said Mr. Lind. "I intend to buy you some furs, Natalie, for the winter. These we will get in Paris."

"I am too much of an expense to you already, papa."

"You forget," said he, with mock gravity, "that you give me your invaluable services as house-keeper, and that so far you have received no salary."

There was a knock at the outer door.

"Is it nine o'clock already?" he said, in an altered tone.

"Whom do you expect, papa?"

"Gathorne Edwards."

"Then I will send you in coffee to the study."

But presently Anneli came into the room.

"Pardon, Fraulein, but the gentleman wishes to see you for one minute."

"Let him come in here, then."

Edwards came in, and shook hands with Natalie in an embarrassed manner. Then he produced a little packet.

"I have a commission, Miss Lind. It is from Signor Calabressa. He sends you this necklace, and says I am to tell you that he thinks of you always."

The message had been in reality that Calabressa "thought of her and loved her always." But Edwards was a shy person, and did not like to pronounce the word "love" to this beautiful girl, who regarded him with such proud, frank eyes.

"He has not returned with you, then?"

"No."

"But you can send him a message?"

"I will when I hear of his address."

"Then you will tell him--will you be so kind?--that the little Natalushka--that is myself," she said, smiling; "you will tell him that the little Natalushka thanks him, and is not likely to forget him."

The interview between the new visitor and Mr. Lind was speedily got over. Lind excused himself for giving Edwards the trouble of this second appointment by saying he had been much engrossed with serious business during the day. There was, indeed, little new to be communicated about the Kirski and Calabressa escapade, though Edwards repeated the details as minutely as possible. He accepted a cigar, and left.

Then Lind got his overcoat and hat and went out of the house. A hansom took him along to Lisle Street: he arrived there just as ten was striking.

There were two men at the door; they were Beratinsky and Reitzei. All three entered and went up the narrow stair in the dark, for the old German had gone. There was some fumbling for matches on the landing; then a light was procured, and the gas lit in the central room. Mr. Lind sat down at his desk; the other two drew in chairs. The whole house was intently silent.

"I am sorry to take you away from your amusements," said he, civilly enough; "but you will soon be able to return to them. The matter is of importance. Edwards has returned."

Both men nodded; Reitzei had, in fact, informed his companion.

"As I anticipated, Calabressa's absurd proposal has been rejected, if not even scoffed at. Now, this affair must not be played with any longer. The Council has charged us, the English section, with a certain duty; we must set about having it performed at once."

"There is a year's grace," Beratinsky observed, but Lind interrupted him curtly.

"There may be a year's grace or less allowed to the infamous priest; there is none allowed to us. We must have our agent ready. Why, man, do you think a thing like that can be done off-hand, without long and elaborate planning?"

Beratinsky was silenced.

"Are we to have the Council think that we are playing with them? And that was not the only thing in connection with the Calabressa scheme which you, Reitzei, were the first to advocate. Every additional person whom you let into the secret is a possible weak point in the carrying out of the design; do you perceive that? And you had to let this man Edwards into it."

"But he is safe."

Lind laughed.

"Safe? Yes; because he knows his own life would not be worth a half-franc piece if he betrayed a Council secret. However, that is over: no more about it. We must show the Council that we can act and promptly."

There was silence for a second or two.

"I have no need to wait for the further instructions of the Council," Lind resumed. "I know what they intend. They intend to make it clear to all Europe that this is not a Camorra act of vengeance. The Starving Cardinal has thousands of enemies; the people curse and groan at him; if he were stabbed by an Italian, 'Oh, another of those Camorristi wretches!' would be the cry. The agent must come from England, and, if he is taken red-handed, then let him say if he likes that he is connected with an association which knows how to reach evil-doers who are beyond the ordinary reach of the law; but let him make it clear that it is no Camorra affair: you understand?"

"Yes, yes," said both men.

"Now you know what the Council have ordained," continued Lind, calmly, "that no agent shall be appointed to undertake any service involving immediate peril to life without a ballot among at least four persons. It was absurd of Calabressa to imagine that they would abrogate their own decree, merely because that Russian madman was ready for anything. Well, it is not expedient that this secret should be confided to many. It is known to four persons in this country. We are three of the four."

The two men started.

"Yes," he said boldly, and he regarded each of them in turn. "That is my proposal: that we ourselves form three of the ballot of four. The fourth must be an Englishman."

"Edwards?" said Beratinsky. Reitzei was thinking too much of his own position to speak.

"No," said Lind, calmly playing with his pencil, "Edwards is a man of books, not of action. I have been thinking that the fourth ought to be--George Brand."

He watched them both. Reitzei was still preoccupied; but the small black eyes of Beratinsky twinkled eagerly.

"Yes, yes, yes! Very good! There we have our four. For myself, I am not afraid; not I!"

"And you, Reitzei; are you satisfied?" said Lind merely as a matter of form.

The younger man started.

"Oh yes, the Council must be obeyed," said he, absently.

"Gentlemen," said Lind, rising, "the business is concluded. Now you may return to your Culturverein."

But when the others had risen, he said, in a laughing way, "There is only one thing I will add: you may think about it at your leisure. The chances are three to one, and we all run the same risk; but I confess I should not be sorry to see the Englishman chosen; for, you perceive, that would make the matter clear enough. They would not accuse an Englishman of complicity with the Camorra--would they, Reitzei? If the lot fell to the Englishman, I should not be disappointed--would you, Beratinsky?"

Beratinsky, who was about to leave, turned sharply and the coal-black eyes were fixed intently on Lind's face.

"I?" he said. "Not I! We will talk again about it, Brother Lind."

Reitzei opened the door, Lind screwed out the gas, and then the three men descended the wooden staircase, their footsteps sounding through the silent house.

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