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Full Online Book HomeLong StoriesThe Lighted Way - Chapter 14. Sabatini's Doctrines
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The Lighted Way - Chapter 14. Sabatini's Doctrines Post by :dean_z Category :Long Stories Author :E. Phillips Oppenheim Date :May 2012 Read :1346

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The Lighted Way - Chapter 14. Sabatini's Doctrines

CHAPTER XIV. SABATINI'S DOCTRINES

The apartments of Count Sabatini were situated in the somewhat unfamiliar quarter of Queen Anne's Gate. Arnold found his way there on foot, crossing Parliament Square in a slight drizzling rain, through which the figures of the passers-by assumed a somewhat phantasmal appearance. Around him was a glowing arc of lights, and, dimly visible beyond, shadowy glimpses of the river. He rang the bell with some hesitation at the house indicated by his directions--a large gray stone building, old-fashioned, and without any external signs of habitation. His summons, however, was answered almost immediately by a man-servant who took his hat and coat.

"If you will step into the library for a moment, sir," he said, with a slight foreign accent, "His Excellency will be there."

Arnold was immensely impressed by the room into which he was shown. He stood looking around him for several minutes. The whole atmosphere seemed to indicate a cultivated and luxurious taste, kept in bounds by a certain not unpleasing masculine severity. The coloring of the room was dark green, and the walls were everywhere covered with prints and etchings, and trophies of the chase and war. A huge easy-chair was drawn up to the fire, and by its side was a table covered with books and illustrated papers. A black oak writing desk stood open, and a huge bowl of violets set upon it was guarded by an ivory statuette of the Venus of Milo. The furniture was comfortably worn. There was a faint atmosphere of cigarette smoke,--the whole apartment was impregnated by an intensely liveable atmosphere. The glowing face of a celebrated Parisian _danseuse laughed at him from over the mantelpiece. Arnold was engaged in examining it when Sabatini entered.

"A thousand apologies, my dear Mr. Chetwode," he said softly. "I see you pass your time pleasantly. You admire the divine Fatime?"

"The face is beautiful," Arnold admitted. "I am afraid I was a few minutes early. It began to rain and I walked fast."

Sabatini smiled. A butler had followed him into the room, bearing on a tray two wine-glasses full of clear yellow liquid.

"Vermouth and one tiny cigarette," Sabatini suggested,--"the best _aperetif in the world. Permit me, Mr. Chetwode--to our better acquaintance!"

"I never need an _aperetif_," Arnold answered, raising the wine-glass to his lips, "but I will drink to your toast, with pleasure."

Sabatini lit his cigarette, and, leaning slightly against the back of a chair, stood with folded arms looking at the picture over the fireplace.

"Your remark about Fatime suggested reservations," he remarked. "I wonder why? I have a good many curios in the room, and some rather wonderful prints, but it was Fatime who held you while you waited. Yet you are not one of those, I should imagine," he added, blowing out a cloud of cigarette smoke, "to whom the call of sex is irresistible."

Arnold shook his head.

"No, I don't think so," he admitted simply. "To tell you the truth, I think that it was the actual presence of the picture here, rather than its suggestions, which interested me most. Your room is so masculine," Arnold added, glancing around. "It breathes of war and sport and the collector. And then, in the middle of it all, this girl, with her barely veiled limbs and lascivious eyes. There is something a little brutal about the treatment, don't you think?"

Sabatini shrugged his shoulders.

"The lady is too well known," remarked Sabatini, shrugging his shoulders. "A single touch of the ideal and the greatness of that picture would be lost. Greve was too great an artist to try for it."

"Nevertheless," Arnold persisted, "she disturbs the serenity of your room."

Sabatini threw away his cigarette and passed his arm through his companion's.

"It is as well always to be reminded that life is many-sided," he murmured. "You will not mind a _tete-a-tete dinner?"

Some curtains of dark green brocaded material had been silently drawn aside, and they passed into a smaller apartment, of which the coloring and style of decoration was the same. A round table, before which stood two high-backed, black oak chairs, and which was lit with softly-shaded candles, stood in the middle of the room. It was very simply set out, but the two wine-glasses were richly cut in quaint fashion, and the bowl of violets was of old yellow Sevres. Arnold sat opposite his host and realized how completely the man seemed to fit in with his surroundings. In Mrs. Weatherley's drawing-room there had been a note of incongruity. Here he seemed so thoroughly in accord with the air of masculine and cultivated refinement which dominated the atmosphere. He carried himself with the ease and dignity to which his race entitled him, but, apart from that, his manner had qualities which Arnold found particularly attractive. His manicured nails, his spotless linen, his links and waistcoat buttons,--cut from some quaint stone,--the slight affectations of his dress, the unusual manner of brushing back his hair and arranging his tie, gave him only a note of individuality. Every word he spoke--and he talked softly but continually during the service of the meal--confirmed Arnold's first impressions of him. He was a man, at least, who had lived a man's life without fear or weakness, and, whatever his standards might be, he would adhere to them.

Dinner was noiselessly and perfectly served by the butler who had first appeared, and a slighter and smaller edition of himself who brought him the dishes. There was no champagne, but other wines were served in their due order, the quality of which Arnold appreciated, although more than one was strange to him. With the removal of the last course, fruit was placed upon the table, with a decanter of _Chateau Yquem_. On a small table near was a brass pot of coffee and a flask of green liqueur. Sabatini pushed the cigarettes towards his companion.

"I have a fancy to talk to you seriously," he said, without any preamble.

Arnold looked at him in some surprise.

"I am not a philanthropist," continued Sabatini. "When I move out of my regular course of life it is usually for my own advantage. I warn you of that before we start."

Arnold nodded and lit his cigarette fearlessly. There was no safety in life, he reflected, thinking for the moment of the warning which he had received, like the safety of poverty.

"I am a man of forty-one," Sabatini said. "You, I believe, are twenty-four. There can, therefore, be no impertinences in the truth from me to you."

"There could be none in any case," Arnold assured him.

Sabatini gazed thoughtfully across the table into his guest's face.

"I do not know your history or your parentage," he went on. "Such knowledge is unnecessary. It is obvious that your position at the present moment is the result of an accident."

"It is the outcome of actual poverty," Arnold told him softly.

Sabatini assented.

"Ah! well," he said, "it is a poverty, then, which you have accepted. Tell me, then, of your ambition! You are young, and the world lies before you. You have the gifts which belong to those who are born. Are you doing what is right to yourself in working at a degrading employment for a pittance?"

"I must live," Arnold protested simply.

"Precisely," replied Sabatini. "We all must live. We all, however, are too apt to accept the rulings of circumstance. I maintain that we all have a right to live in the manner to which we are born."

"And how," asked Arnold, "does one enforce that right?"

Sabatini leaned over and helped himself to the liqueur.

"You possess the gift," he remarked, "which I admire most--the gift of directness. Now I would speak to you of myself. When I was young, I was penniless, with no inheritance save a grim castle, a barren island, and a great name. The titular head of my family was a Cardinal of Rome, my father's own brother. I went to him, and I demanded the means of support. He answered me with an epigram which I will not repeat, besides which it is untranslatable. I will only tell you that he gave me a sum equivalent to a few hundred pounds, and bade me seek my fortune."

Arnold was intensely interested.

"Tell me how you started!" he begged.

"A few hundred pounds were insufficient," Sabatini answered coolly, "and my uncle was a coward. I waited my opportunity, and although three times I was denied an audience, on the fourth I found him alone. He would have driven me out but I used the means which I have never known to fail. I left him with a small but sufficient fortune."

Arnold looked at him with glowing eyes.

"You forced him to give it you!" he exclaimed.

"Without a doubt," Sabatini answered, coolly. "He was wealthy and he was my uncle. I was strong and he was weak. It was as necessary for me to live as for him. So I took him by the throat and gave him thirty seconds to reflect. He decided that the life of a Cardinal of Rome was far too pleasant to be abandoned precipitately."

There was a short silence. Sabatini glanced twice at his companion and smiled.

"I will read your thoughts, my young friend," he continued. "Your brain is a little confused. You are wondering whether indeed I have robbed my elderly relative. Expunge that word and all that it means to you from your vocabulary, if you can. I took that to which I had a right by means of the weapons which have been given to me--strength and opportunity. These are the weapons which I have used through life."

"Supposing the Cardinal had refused?" Arnold asked.

"One need not suppose," Sabatini replied. "It is not worth while. I should probably have done what the impulse of the moment demanded. So far, however, I have found most people reasonable."

"There have been others, then?" Arnold demanded.

"There have been others," Sabatini agreed calmly; "always people, however, upon whom I have had a certain claim. Life to different people means different things. Life to a person of my tastes and descent meant this--it meant playing a part in the affairs of the country which gave me my birthright; it meant the carrying forward of a great enmity which has burned within the family of Sabatini for the house which now rules my country, for hundreds of years. If I were a person who sought for excuses, I might say that I have robbed my relatives for the cause of the patriot. Life to a sawer of wood means bread. The two states themselves are identical. The man who is denied bread breaks into riot and gains his ends. I, when I have been denied what amounts to me as bread, have also helped myself."

"I am not sure," Arnold protested, frankly, "whether you are not amusing yourself with me."

"Then let me put that doubt to rest, once and for all," Sabatini replied. "It does not amuse me to trifle with the truth."

"Why do you make me your confidant?" Arnold asked.

"Because it is my intention to make a convert of you," Sabatini said calmly.

Arnold shook his head.

"I am afraid that that is quite hopeless," he answered. "I have not the excuse of a country which needs my help, although I have more than one relative," he added, with a smile, "whom I should not mind taking by the throat."

"One needs no excuse," Sabatini murmured.

"When one--"

He hesitated.

"I have no scruples," Sabatini interrupted, "in using the word which seems to trouble you. Perhaps I am a robber. What, however, you do not appreciate is that nine-tenths of the people in the world are in the same position."

"I cannot admit that either," Arnold protested.

"It is, then, because you have not considered the matter," Sabatini declared. "You live in a very small corner of the world and you have accepted a moral code as ridiculously out of date as Calvinism in religion. The whole of life is a system of robbery. The strong help themselves, the weak go down. Did you call your splendid seamen of Queen Elizabeth's time robbers, because they nailed the English flag to their mast and swept the seas for plunder? 'We are strong,' they cried to the country they robbed, 'and you are weak. Stand and deliver!' I spare you a hundred instances. Take your commercial life of to-day. The capitalist stretches out his hand and swallows up the weaker man. He does it ten or fifty times a day and there is no one to stop him. It is the strong taking from the weak. You cannot walk from here to Charing Cross without seeing it. Some forms of plunder come under the law, some do not. Your idea as to which are right and which are wrong is simply the law's idea. The man who is strong enough is the law."

"Your doctrines are far-reaching," Arnold said. "What about the man who sweeps the crossings, the beggars who ask for alms?"

"They sweep crossings and they beg for alms," Sabatini replied, "because they are weak or foolish and because I am strong. You work for twenty-eight shillings a week because you are foolish. You can do it if you like, if it affords you any satisfaction to make a martyr of yourself for the sake of bolstering up a conventional system. Either that or you have not the spirit for adventure."

"The spirit for adventure," Arnold repeated quietly. "Well, there have been times when I thought I had that, but it certainly never occurred to me to go out and rob."

"That," Sabatini declared, "is because you are an Englishman and extraordinarily susceptible to conventions. Now I speak with many experiences behind me. I had ancestors who enriched themselves with fire and sword. I would much prefer to do the same thing. As a matter of fact, when the conditions admit of it, I do. I have fought in whatever war has raged since the days when I was eighteen. If another war should break out to-morrow, I should weigh the causes, choose the side I preferred, and fight for it. But when there is no war, I must yet live. I cannot drill troops all day, or sit in the cafes. I must use my courage and my brains in whatever way seems most beneficial to the cause which lies nearest to my heart."

"I cannot imagine," Arnold said frankly, "what that cause is."

"Some day, and before long," Sabatini replied, "you may know. At any rate, we have talked enough of this for the present. Think over what I have said. If at any time I should have an enterprise to propose to you, you will at least recognize my point of view."

He touched the bell. A servant entered almost at once, carrying his overcoat and silk hat.

"I have taken a box at a music-hall," he announced. "I believe that my sister may join us there. I hope it will amuse you?"

Arnold rose eagerly to his feet. His eyes were bright already with anticipation.

"And as for our conversation," Sabatini continued, as they stepped into his little electric brougham, "dismiss it, for the present, from your memory. Try and look out upon life with larger eyes, from a broader point of view. Forget the laws that have been made by other men. Try and frame for yourself a more rational code of living. And judge not with the ready-made judgment of laws, but from your own consciousness of right and wrong. You are at an impressionable age, and the effort should help to make a man of you."

They glided softly along the crowded streets and up into Leicester Square, where the blaze of lights seemed somehow comforting after the cold darkness of the night. They stopped outside the _Empire and Arnold followed his guide with beating heart as they were shown to their box. The door was thrown open. Fenella was there alone. She was sitting a little way back in the box so as to escape observation from the house. At the sound of their entrance she turned eagerly toward them. Arnold, who was in advance, stopped short in the act of greeting her. She was looking past him at her brother. She was absolutely colorless, her lips were parted, her eyes distended as though with terror. She had all the appearance of a woman who has looked upon some terrible thing.

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