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Full Online Book HomeLong StoriesSunrise - Chapter 25. A Friend's Advice
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Sunrise - Chapter 25. A Friend's Advice Post by :sbeard Category :Long Stories Author :William Black Date :May 2012 Read :1256

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Sunrise - Chapter 25. A Friend's Advice

CHAPTER XXV. A FRIEND'S ADVICE

This must be said for George Brand, that while he was hard and unsympathetic in the presence of those whom he disliked or distrusted, in the society of those whom he did like and did trust he was docile and acquiescent as a child, easily led and easily persuaded. When he went from Lind's chamber, which had been to him full of an atmosphere of impatience and antagonism, to Lord Evelyn's study, and found his friend sitting reading there, his whole attitude changed; and his first duty was to utter a series of remonstrances about the thousand pounds.

"You can't afford it, Evelyn. Why didn't you come to me? I would have given it to you a dozen times over rather than you should have paid it."

"No doubt you would," said the pale lad. "That is why I did not come to you."

"I wish you could get it back."

"I would not take it back. It is little enough I can do; why not let me give such help as I can? If only those girls would begin to marry off, I might do more. But there is such a band of them that men are afraid to come near them."

"I think it would be a pity to spoil the group," said Brand. "The country should subscribe to keep them as they are--the perfect picture of an English family. However, to return: you must promise me not to commit any of these extravagances again. If any appeal is made to you, come to me."

But here a thought seemed to strike him;

"Ah," he said, "I have something to tell you. Lind is trying to get me to enter the same grade of officership with himself. And do you know what the first qualification is?--that you give up every penny you possess in the world."

"Well?"

"Well!"

The two friends stared at each other--the one calmly inquisitive, the other astounded.

"I thought you would have burst out laughing!" Brand exclaimed.

"Why?" said the other. "You have already done more for them--for us--than that: why should you not do all in your power? Why should you not do all that you can, and while you can? Look!"

They were standing at the window. On the other side of the street far below them were some funeral carriages; at this precise moment the coffin was being carried across the pavement.

"That is the end of it. I say, why shouldn't you do all that you can, and while you can?"

"Do you want reasons? Well, one has occurred to me since I came into this room. A minute ago I said to you that you must not repeat that extravagance; and I said if you were appealed to again you could come to me. But what if I had already surrendered every penny in the world? I wish to retain in my own hands at least the power to help my friends."

"That is only another form of selfishness," said Lord Evelyn, laughing. "I fear you are as yet of weak faith, Brand."

He turned from the light, and went and sunk into the shadow of a great arm-chair.

"Now I know what you are going to do, Evelyn," said his friend. "You are going to talk me out of my common-sense; and I will not have it. I want to show you why it is impossible I should agree to this demand."

"If you feel it to be impossible, it is impossible."

"My dear fellow, is it reasonable?"

"I dislike things that are reasonable."

"There is but one way of getting at you. Have you thought of Natalie?"

"Ah!" said the other, quickly raising himself into an expectant attitude.

"You will listen now, I suppose, to reason, to common-sense. Do you think it likely that, with the possibility of her becoming my wife, I am going to throw away this certainty and leave her to all chances of the world? Lind says that the Society amply provides for its officers. Very well; that is quite probable. I tell him that I am not afraid for myself; if I had to think of myself alone, there is no saying what I might not do, even if I were to laugh at myself for doing it. But how about Natalie? Lind might die. I might be sent away to the ends of the earth. Do you think I am going to leave her at the mercy of a lot of people whom she never saw?"

Lord Evelyn was silent.

"Besides, there is more than that," his friend continued, warmly. "You may call it selfishness, if you like, but if you love a woman and she gives her life into your hands--well, she has the first claim on you. I will put it to you: do you think I am going to sell the Beeches--when--when she might live there?"

Lord Evelyn did not answer.

"Of course I am willing to subscribe largely," his friend continued; "and Natalie herself would say yes to that. But I am not ambitious. I don't want to enter that grade. I don't want to sit in Lind's chair when he gets elected to the Council, as has been suggested to me. I am not qualified for it; I don't care about it; I can best do my own work in my own way."

At last Lord Evelyn spoke; but it was in a meditative fashion, and not very much to the point. He lay back in his easy-chair, his hands clasped behind his head, and talked; and his talk was not at all about the selling of Hill Beeches in Buckinghamshire, but of much more abstract matters. He spoke of the divine wrath of the reformer--what a curious thing it was, that fiery impatience with what was wrong in the world; how it cropped up here and there from time to time; and how one abuse after another had been burnt up by it and swept away forever. Give the man possessed of this holy rage all the beauty and wealth and ease in the world, and he is not satisfied; there is something within him that vibrates to the call of humanity without; others can pass by what does not affect themselves with a laugh or a shrug of indifference; he only must stay and labor till the wrong thing is put right. And how often had he been jeered at by the vulgar of his time; how Common-Sense had pointed the finger of scorn at him; how Respectability had called him crazed! John Brown at Harper's Ferry is only a ridiculous old fool; his effort is absurd; even gentlemen in the North feel an "intellectual satisfaction" that he is hanged, because of his "preposterous miscalculation of possibilities." Yes, no doubt; you hang him, and there is an end; but "his soul goes marching on," and the slaves are freed! You want to abolish the Corn-laws?--all good society shrieks at you at first: you are a Radical, a regicide, a Judas Iscariot; but in time the nation listens, and the poor have cheap bread. "Mazzini is mad!" the world cries: "why this useless bloodshed? It is only political murder." Mazzini is mad, no doubt: but in time the beautiful dream of Italy--of "Italia, the world's wonder, the world's care"--comes true. And what matter to the reformer, the agitator, the dreamer, though you stone him to death, or throw him to the lions, or clap him into a nineteenth-century prison and shut his mouth that way? He has handed on the sacred fire. Others will bear the torch; and he who is unencumbered will outstrip his fellows. The wrong must be put right.

And so forth, and so forth. Brand sat and listened, recognizing here and there a proud, pathetic phrase of Natalie's, and knowing well whence the inspiration came; and as he listened he almost felt as though that beautiful old place in Buckinghamshire was slipping through his fingers. The sacrifice seemed to be becoming less and less of a sacrifice; it took more and more the form of a duty; would Natalie's eyes smile approval?

Brand jumped up, and took a rapid turn or two up and down the room.

"I won't listen to you, Evelyn. You don't know anything about money-matters. You care for nothing but ideas. Now, I come of a commercial stock, and I want to know what guarantee I have that this money, if I were to give it up, would be properly applied. Lind's assurances are all very well--"

"Oh yes, of course; you have got back to Lind," said Lord Evelyn, waking up from his reveries. "Do you know, my dear fellow, that your distrust of Lind is rapidly developing into a sharp and profound hatred?"

"I take men as I find them. Perhaps you can explain to me how Lind should care so little for the future of his daughter as to propose--with the possibility of our marrying--that she should be left penniless?"

"I can explain it to myself, but not to you; you are too thorough an Englishman."

"Are you a foreigner?"

"I try to understand those who are not English. Now, an Englishman's theory is that he himself, and his wife and children--his domestic circle, in fact--are the centre of creation; and that the fate of empires, as he finds that going one way or the other in the telegrams of the morning paper, is a very small matter compared with the necessity of Tom's going to Eton, or Dick's marrying and settling down as the bailiff of the Worcestershire farm. That is all very well; but other people may be of a different habit of mind. Lind's heart and soul are in his present work; he would sacrifice himself, his daughter, you, or anybody else to it, and consider himself amply justified. He does not care about money, or horses, or the luxury of a big establishment; I suppose he has had to live on simple fare many a time, whether he liked it or not, and can put up with whatever happens. If you imagine that you may be cheated by a portion of your money--supposing you were to adopt his proposal--going into his pocket as commission, you do him a wrong."

"No, I don't think that," Brand said, rather unwillingly. "I don't take him to be a common and vulgar swindler. And I can very well believe that he does not care very much for money or luxury or that kind of thing, so far as he himself is concerned. Still, you would think that the ordinary instinct of a father would prevent his doing an injury to the future of his daughter--"

"Would he consider it an injury. Would she?"'

"Well," Brand said, "she is very enthusiastic, and noble, and generous, and does not know what dependence or poverty means. But he is a man of the world, and you would think he would look after his own kith and kin."

"Yes, that is a wholesome conservative English sentiment, but it does not rule the actions of everybody."

"But common sense--"

"Oh, bother common sense! Common-sense is only a grocer that hasn't got an idea beyond ham-and-eggs."

"Well, if I am only a grocer," Brand said, quite submissively, "don't you think the grocer, if he were asked to pay off the National Debt, ought to say, 'Gentlemen, that is a praiseworthy object; but in the meantime wouldn't it be advisable for me to make sure that my wife mayn't have to go on the parish?"

Thereafter there was silence for a time, and when Brand next spoke it was in a certain, precise, hard fashion, as if he wished to make his meaning very clear.

"Suppose, Evelyn," he said, "I were to tell you what has occurred to me as the probable explanation of Lind's indifference about the future of his daughter, would you be surprised?"

"I expect it will be wrong, for you cannot do justice to that man; but I should like to hear it."

"I must tell you he wrote me a letter, a shilly-shallying sort of letter, filled with arguments to prove that a marriage between Natalie and myself would not be expedient, and all the rest of it: not absolutely refusing his consent, you understand, but postponing the matter, and hoping that on further reflection, et caetera, et caetera. Well, do you know what my conclusion is?--that he is definitely resolved I shall not marry his daughter; and that he is playing with me, humbugging me with the possibility of marrying her, until he induces me to hand him over my fortune for the use of the Society. Stare away as you like; that is what I believe to be true."

He rose and walked to the window, and looked out.

"Well, Evelyn, whatever happens, I have to thank you for many things. It has been all like my boyhood come back again, but much more wonderful and beautiful. If I have to go to America, I shall take with me at least the memory of one night at Covent Garden. She was there--and Madame Potecki--and old Calabressa. It was _Fidelio they were playing. She gave me some forget-me-nots."

"What do you mean by going to America?" Lord Evelyn said.

Brand remained at the window for a minute or two, silent, and then he returned to his chair.

"You will say I am unjust again. But unless I am incapable of understanding English--such English as he speaks--this is his ultimatum: that unless I give my property, every cent of it, over to the Society, I am to go to America. It is a distinct and positive threat."

"How can you say so!" the other remonstrated. "He has just been to America himself, without any compulsion whatever."

"He has been to America for a certain number of weeks. I am to go for life--and, as he imagines, alone."

His face had been growing darker and darker, the brows lowering ominously over the eyes.

"Now, Brand," his friend said, "you are letting your distrust of this man Lind become a madness. What if he were to say to-morrow that you might marry Natalie the day after?"

The other looked up almost bewildered.

"I would say he was serving some purpose of his own. But he will not say that. He means to keep his daughter to himself, and he means to have my money."

"Why, you admitted, a minute ago, that even you could not suspect him of that!"

"Not for himself--no. Probably he does not care for money. But he cares for ambition--for power; and there is a vacancy in the Council. Don't you see? This would be a tremendous large sum in the eyes of a lot of foreigners: they would be grateful, would they not? And Natalie once transferred to Italy, I could console myself with the honor and dignity of Lind's chair in Lisle Street. Don't you perceive?"

"I perceive this--that you misjudge Lind altogether. I am sure of it. I have seen it from the beginning--from the moment you set your foot in his house. And you tried to blind yourself to the fact because of Natalie. Now that you imagine that he means to take Natalie from you, all your pent-up antagonism breaks loose. Meanwhile, what does Natalie herself say?"

"What does she say?" he repeated, mechanically. He also was lying back in his chair, his eyes gazing aimlessly at the window. But whenever anyone spoke of Natalie, or whenever he himself had to speak of her, a quite new expression came into his face; the brows lifted, the eyes were gentle. "What does she say? Why, nothing. Lind requested me neither to see her nor write to her; and I thought that reasonable until I should have heard what he had to say to me. There is a message I got half an hour ago--not from her."

He handed to Lord Evelyn the anonymous scroll that he had received from the old German.

"Poor old Calabressa!" he said. "Those Italians are always very fond of little mysteries. But how he must have loved that woman?"

"Natalie's mother?"

"Yes," said the other, absently. "I wonder he has never gone to see his sweetheart of former years."

"What do you mean?"

Brand started. It was not necessary that Lord Evelyn should in the mean time be intrusted with that secret.

"He told me that when he saw Natalie it was to him like a vision from the dead; she was so like her mother. But I must be off, Evelyn; I have to meet Molyneux at two. So that is your advice," he said, as he went to the door--"that I should comply with Lind's demand; or--to put it another way--succumb to his threat?"

"It is not my advice at all--quite the contrary. I say, if you have any doubt or distrust--if you cannot make the sacrifice without perfect faith and satisfaction to yourself--do not think of it."

"And go to America?"

"I cannot believe that any such compulsory alternative exists. But about Natalie, surely you will send her a message; Lind cannot object to that?"

"I will send her no message; I will go to her," the other said, firmly. "I believe Lind wishes me not to see her. Within the duties demanded of me by the Society, his wishes are to me commands; elsewhere and otherwise neither his wishes nor his commands do I value more than a lucifer-match. Is that plain enough, Evelyn?"

And so he went away, forgetting all the sage counsel Calabressa had given him; thinking rather of the kindly, thoughtful, mysterious little message the old man had left behind him, and of the beautiful caged bird that sighed and wept because she thought she was forgotten. She should not think that long!

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