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Full Online Book HomeLong StoriesSunrise - Chapter 2. Pleadings
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Sunrise - Chapter 2. Pleadings Post by :ben.g Category :Long Stories Author :William Black Date :May 2012 Read :1866

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Sunrise - Chapter 2. Pleadings


"Brother Senior Warden, your place in the lodge?" said Mr. Brand, looking at the small dinner-table.

"You forget," his companion said. "I am only in the nursery as yet--an Illuminatus Minor, as it were. However, I don't think I can do better than sit where Waters has put me; I can have a glimpse of the lights on the river. But what an extraordinary place for you to come to for rooms!"

They had driven down through the glare of the great city to this silent and dark little thoroughfare, dismissed the carriage at the foot, climbed up an old-fashioned oak staircase, and found themselves at last received by an elderly person, who looked a good deal more like a bronzed old veteran than an ordinary English butler.

"Halloo, Waters!" said Lord Evelyn. "How are you? I don't think I have seen you since you threatened to murder the landlord at Cairo."

"No, my lord," said Mr. Waters, who seemed vastly pleased by this reminiscence, and who instantly disappeared to summon dinner for the two young men.

"Extraordinary?" said Brand, when they had got seated at table. "Oh no; my constant craving is for air, space, light and quiet. Here I have all these. Beneath are the Embankment gardens; beyond that, you see, the river--those lights are the steamers at anchor. As for quiet, the lower floors are occupied by a charitable society; so I fancied there would not be much traffic on the stairs."

The jibe passed unheeded; Lord Evelyn had long ago become familiar with his friend's way of speaking about men and things.

"And so, Evelyn, you have become a pupil of the revolutionaries," George Brand continued, when Waters had put some things before them and retired--"a student of the fine art of stabbing people unawares? What an astute fellow that Lind must be--I will swear it never occurred to one of the lot before--to get an English milord into their ranks! A stroke of genius! It could only have been projected by a great mind. And then look at the effect throughout Europe if an English milord were to be found with a parcel of Orsini bombs in his possession! every ragamuffin from Naples to St. Petersburg would rejoice; the army of cutthroats would march with a new swagger."

His companion said nothing; but there was a vexed and impatient look on his face.

"And our little daughter--is she pretty? Does she coax the young men to play with daggers?--the innocent little thing! And when you start with your dynamite to break open a jail, she blows you a kiss?--the charming little fairy! What is it she has embroidered on the ribbons round her neck?--'_Mort aux rois_?' '_Sic semper tyrannis_?' No; I saw a much prettier one somewhere the other day: '_Ne si pasce di fresche ruggiade, ma di sangue di membra di re_.' Isn't it charming? It sounds quite idyllic, even in English: '_Not for you the nourishment of freshening dews, but the blood of the limbs of kings_!' The pretty little stabber--is she fierce?"

"Brand, you are too bad!" said the other, throwing down his knife and fork, and getting up from the table. "You believe in neither man, woman, God, nor devil!"

"Would you mind handing over that claret jug?"

"Why," he said, turning passionately toward him, "it is men like you, who have neither faith, nor hope, nor regret, who are wandering aimlessly in a nightmare of apathy and indolence and indifference, who ought to be the first to welcome the new light breaking in the sky. What is life worth to you? You have nothing to hope for--nothing to look forward to--nothing you can kill the aimless with. Why should you desire to-morrow? To-morrow will bring you nothing different from yesterday; you will do as you did yesterday and the day before yesterday. It is the life of a horse or an ox--not the life of a human being, with the sympathies and needs and aspirations of a man. What is the object of living at all?"

"I really don't know," said the other, simply.

But this pale hump-backed lad, with the fine nostrils, the sensitive mouth, the large forehead, and the beautiful eyes, was terribly in earnest. He forgot about his place at table. He kept walking up and down, occasionally addressing his friend directly, at other times glancing out at the dark river and the golden lines of the lamps. And he was an eloquent speaker, too. Debarred from most forms of physical exercise, he had been brought up in a world of ideas. When he went to Oxford, it was with some vague notion of subsequently entering the Church; but at Oxford he became speedily convinced that there was no Church left for him to enter. Then he fell back on aestheticism--worshipped Carpaccio, adored Chopin, and turned his rooms at Merton into a museum of old tapestry, Roman brass-work, and Venetian glass. Then he dabbled a little in Comtism; but very soon he threw aside that gigantic make-believe at believing. Nevertheless, whatever was his whim of the moment, it was for him no whim at all, but a burning reality. And in this enthusiasm of his there was no room left for shyness. In fact, these two companions had been accustomed to talk frankly; they had long ago abandoned that self-consciousness which ordinarily restricts the conversation of young Englishmen to monosyllables. Brand was a good listener and his friend an eager, impetuous, enthusiastic speaker. The one could even recite verses to the other: what greater proof of confidence?

And on this occasion all this prayer of his was earnest and pathetic enough. He begged this old chum of his to throw aside his insular prejudices and judge for himself. What object had he in living at all, if life were merely a routine of food and sleep? In this selfish isolation, his living was only a process of going to the grave--only that each day would become more tedious and burdensome as he grew older. Why should he not examine, and inquire, and believe--if that was possible? The world was perishing for want of a new faith: the new faith was here.

At this phrase George Brand quickly raised his head. He was accustomed to these enthusiasms of his friend; but he had not yet seen him in the character of on apostle.

"You know it as well as I, Brand; the last great wave of religion has spent itself; and I suppose Matthew Arnold would have us wait for the mysterious East, the mother of religions, to send us another. Do you remember 'Obermann?'--

"'In his cool hall, with haggard eyes,
The Roman noble lay;
He drove abroad, in furious guise,
Along the Appian Way;

"'He made a feast, drank fierce and fast,
And crowned his head with flowers--
No easier nor no quicker passed
The impracticable hours.

"'The brooding East with awe beheld
Her impious younger world.
The Roman tempest swelled and swelled,
And on her head was hurled.

"'The East bowed low before the blast,
In patience, deep disdain;
She let the legions thunder past,
And plunged in thought again.'"

The lad had a sympathetic voice; and there was a curious, pathetic thrill in the tones of it as he went on to describe the result of that awful musing--the new-born joy awakening in the East--the victorious West veiling her eagles and snapping her sword before this strange new worship of the Child--

"And centuries came, and ran their course,
And, unspent all that time,
Still, still went forth that Child's dear force,
And still was at its prime."

But now--in these later days around us!--

"Now he is dead! Far hence He lies
In the lorn Syrian town;
And on his grave, with shining eyes,
The Syrian stars look down."

The great divine wave had spent itself. But were we to sit supinely by--this was what he asked, though not precisely in these consecutive words, for sometimes he walked to and fro in his eagerness, and sometimes he ate a bit of bread, or sat down opposite his friend for the purpose of better confronting him--to wait for that distant and mysterious East to send us another revelation? Not so. Let the proud-spirited and courageous West, that had learned the teachings of Christianity but never yet applied them--let the powerful West establish a faith of her own: a faith in the future of humanity itself--a faith in future of recompense and atonement to the vast multitudes of mankind who had toiled so long and so grievously--a faith demanding instant action and endeavor and self-sacrifice from those who would be its first apostles.

"The complaining millions of men
Darken in labor and pain."

And why should not this Christianity, that had so long been used to gild the thrones of kings and glorify the ceremonies of priests--that had so long been monopolized by the rich and the great and the strong, whom its Founder despised and denounced--why should it not at length come to the help of those myriads of the poor and the weak and the suffering whose cry for help had been for so many centuries disregarded? Here was work for the idle, hope for the hopeless, a faith for them who were perishing for want of a faith.

"You say all this is vague--a vision--a sentiment?" he said, talking in the same eager way. "Then that is my fault. I cannot explain it all to you in a few words. But do not run away with the notion that it is mere words--a St. Simonian dream of perfectibility, or anything like that. It is practical; it exists; it is within reach of you. It is a definite and immense organization; it may be young as yet, but it has courage and splendid aims; and now, with a great work before it, it is eager for aid. You yourself, when you see a child run over, or a woman starving of hunger, or a blind man wanting to cross a street, are you not ready with your help--the help of your hands or of your purse? Multiply these by millions, and think of the cry for help that comes from all parts of the world. If you but knew, you could not resist. I as yet know little--I only hear the echo of the cry; but my veins are burning; I shall have the gladness of answering 'Yes,' however little I can do. And after all, is not that something? For a man to live only for himself is death."

"But you know, Evelyn," said his friend, though he did not quite know what to answer to all this outburst, "you must be more cautious. Those benevolent schemes are very noble and very captivating; but sometimes they are in the hands of rather queer people. And besides, do you quite know the limits of this big society? I thought you said something about vindicating the oppressed. Does it include politics?"

"I do not question; I am content to obey," said Lord Evelyn.

"That is not English; unreasoning and blind obedience is mere folly."

"Perhaps so," said the other, somewhat absently; "but I suppose a man accepts whatever satisfies the craving of his own heart. And--and I should not like to go alone on this new thing, Brand. Will you not come some little way with me? If you think I am mistaken, you may turn back; as for me--well, if it were only a dream, I think I would rather go with the pilgrims on their hopeless quest than stay with the people who come out to wonder at them as they go by. You remember--

"'Who is your lady of love, oh ye that pass
Singing? And is it for sorrow of that which was
That ye sing sadly, or dream of what shall be?
For gladly at once and sadly it seems ye sing.
--Our lady of love by you is unbeholden;
For hands she hath none, nor eyes, nor lips, nor golden
Treasure of hair, nor face nor form; but we
That love, we know her more fair than anything.'"

Yes; he had certainly a pathetic thrill in his voice; but now there was something else--something strange--in the slow and monotonous cadence that caught the acute ear of his friend. And again he went on, but absently, almost as if he were himself listening--

"--Is she a queen, having great gifts to give?
--Yea, these; that whoso hath seen her shall not live
Except he serve her sorrowing, with strange pain,
Travail and bloodshedding and bitterest tears;
And when she bids die he shall surely die.
And he shall leave all things under the sky,
And go forth naked under sun and rain,
And work and wait and watch out all his years."

"Evelyn," said George Brand, suddenly, fixing his keen eyes on his friend's face, "where have you heard that? Who has taught you? You are not speaking with your own voice."

"With whose, then?" and a smile came over the pale, calm, beautiful face, as if he had awakened out of a dream.

"That," said Brand, still regarding him, "was the voice of Natalie Lind."

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