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Full Online Book HomeLong StoriesSunrise - Chapter 41. In The Deeps
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Sunrise - Chapter 41. In The Deeps Post by :gabby Category :Long Stories Author :William Black Date :May 2012 Read :3167

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Sunrise - Chapter 41. In The Deeps

CHAPTER XLI. IN THE DEEPS

The sudden shock of the cold night air was a relief to his burning brain; and so also as he passed into the crowded streets, was the low continuous thunder all around him. The theatres were coming out; cabs, omnibuses, carriages added to the muffled roar; the pavements were thronged with people talking, laughing, jostling, calling out one to the other. He was glad to lose himself in this seething multitude; he was glad to be hidden by the darkness; he would try to think.

But his thoughts were too rapid and terrible to be very clear. He only vaguely knew--it was a consciousness that seemed to possess both heart and brain like a consuming fire--that the beautiful dreams he had been dreaming of a future beyond the wide Atlantic, with Natalie living and working by his side, her proud spirit cheering him on, and refusing to be daunted--these dreams had been suddenly snatched away from him; and in their stead, right before him, stood this pitiless, inexorable fate. He could not quite tell how it had all occurred, but there at least was the horrible certainty, staring him right in the face. He could not avoid it; he could not shut his eyes to it, or draw back from it; there was no escape. Then some wild desire to have the thing done at once possessed him. At once--at once--and then the grave would cover over his remorse and despair. Natalie would forget; she had her mother now to console her. Evelyn would say, "Poor devil, he was not the first who got into mischief by meddling in schemes without knowing how far he might have to go." Then amidst all this confused din of the London streets, what was the phrase that kept ringing in his ears?--"_And when she bids die he shall surely die!_" But he no longer heard the pathetic vibration of Natalie Lind's voice; the words seemed to him solemn, and distant, and hopeless, like a knell. But only if it were over--that was again his wild desire. In the grave was forgetfulness and peace.

Presently a curious fancy seized him. At the corner of Windmill Street a ragged youth was bawling out the name of a French journal. Brand bought a copy of the journal, passed on, and walked into an adjacent cafe, and took a seat at one of the small tables. A waiter came to him, and he mechanically ordered coffee. He began to search this newspaper for the array of paragraphs usually headed _Tribunaux_.

At last, in the corner of the newspaper, he found that heading, though under it there was nothing of any importance or interest. But it was the heading itself that had a strange fascination for him. He kept his eyes fixed on it. Then he began to see detached phrases and sentences--or, perhaps, it was only in his brain that he saw them: "The Assassination of Count Zaccatelli! The accused, an Englishman, who refuses to declare his name, admits that he had no personal enmity--commanded to execute this horrible crime--a punishment decreed by a society which he will not name--confesses his guilt--is anxious to be sentenced at once, and to die as soon as the law permits.... This morning the assassin of Cardinal Zaccatelli, who has declared his name to be Edward Bernard, was executed."

He hurriedly folded up the paper, just as if he were afraid of some one overlooking and reading these words, and glanced around. No one was regarding him. The cafe was nearly full, and there was plenty of laughing and talking amidst the glare of the gas. He slunk out of the place, leaving the coffee untasted. But when he had got outside he straightened himself up, and his face assumed a firmer expression. He walked quickly along to Clarges Street. The Evelyns' house was dark from top to bottom; apparently the family had retired for the night. "Perhaps he is at the Century," Brand said to himself, as he started off again. But just as he got to the corner of the street a hansom drove up, and the driver taking the corner too quickly, sent the wheel on to the curb.

"Why don't you look where you're going to?" a voice called out from the inside of the cab.

"Is that you, Evelyn?" Brand cried.

"Yes, it is," was the reply; and the hansom was stopped, and Lord Evelyn descended. "I am happy to say that I can still answer for myself. I thought we were in for a smash."

"Can you spare me five minutes?"

"Five hours if you like."

The man was paid; the two friends walked along the pavement together.

"I am glad to have found you after all, Evelyn," Brand said. "The fact is, my nerves have had a bad shake."

"I never knew you had any. I always fancied you could drive a fire-brigade engine full gallop along the Strand on a wet night, with the theatres coming out."

"A few minutes' talk with you will help me to pull myself together again. Need we go into the house?"

"We sha'n't wake anybody."

They noiselessly went into the house, and passed along the hall until they reached a small room behind the dining-room. The gas was lit, burning low. There were biscuits, seltzer-water, and spirits on the table.

Lord Evelyn was in the act of turning the gas higher, when he happened to catch sight of his friend. He uttered a quick exclamation. Brand, who sat down in a chair, was crying, with his hands over his face, like a woman.

"Great heavens, what is it, Brand?"

That confession of weakness did not last long. Brand rose to his feet impatiently, and took a turn or two up and down the small room.

"What is it? Well, I have received my sentence to-night, Evelyn. But it isn't that--it is the thought of those I shall leave behind--Natalie, and those boys of my sister's--if people were to find out after all that they were related to me!"

He was looking at the things that presented themselves to his own mind; he forgot that Evelyn could not understand; he almost forgot that he was speaking aloud. But by-and-by he got himself better under control. He sat down again. He forced himself to speak calmly: the only sign of emotion was that his face was rather pale, and his eyes looked tired and harassed.

"Yes, I told you my nervous system had got a shock, Evelyn; but I think I have got over it. It won't do for me in my position to abandon one's self to sentiment."'

"I wish you would tell me what you mean."

Brand regarded him.

"I cannot tell you the whole thing, but this will be enough. The Council have decreed the death of a certain person, and I am appointed his executioner."

"You are raving mad!"

"Perhaps it would be better if I were," he said, with a sigh. "However, such is the fact. The ballot was taken to-night; the lot fell to me. I have no one to blame except myself."

Lord Evelyn was too horrified to speak. The calm manner of his companion ought to have carried conviction with it; and yet--and yet--how could such a thing be possible?

"Yes, I blame myself," Brand said, "for not having made certain reservations when pledging myself to the Society. But how was one to think of such things? When Lind used to denounce the outrages of the Nihilists, and talk with indignation of the useless crimes of the Camorra, how could one have thought it possible that assassination should be demanded of you as a duty?"

"But Lind," Lord Evelyn exclaimed--"surely Lind does not approve of such a thing?"

"No, he does not," Brand answered. "He says it will prove a misfortune--"

"Then why does he not protest?"

"Protest against a decree of the Council!" the other exclaimed. "You don't know as much as I do, Evelyn, about that Council. No, I have sworn obedience, and I will obey."

He had recovered his firmness; he seemed resigned--even resolved. It was his friend who was excited.

"I tell you all the oaths in the world cannot compel a man to commit murder," Evelyn said, hotly.

"Oh, they don't call it murder," Brand replied, without any bitterness whatever; "they call it a punishment, a warning to the evil-doers of Europe. And no doubt this man is a great scoundrel, and cannot be reached by the law; and then, besides, one of the members of the Society, who is poor and old, and who has suffered grievous wrong from this man, has appealed to the Council to avenge him. No; I can see their positions. I have no doubt they believe they are acting justly."

"But you yourself do not think so."

"My dear fellow, it is not for the private soldier to ask whether his sovereign has gone to war justly or unjustly. It is his business to obey commands--to kill, if need be--according to his oath."

"Why, you are taking the thing as a matter of course," Lord Evelyn cried, indignantly. "I cannot believe if possible yet! And--and if it were possible--consider how I should upbraid myself: it was I who led you into this affair, Brand."

"Oh no," said the other, absently.

He was staring into the smouldering fire; and for a second or two he sat in silence. Then he said, slowly and thoughtfully,

"I am afraid I have led a very selfish life. Natalie would not say so; she is generous. But it is true. Well, this will make some atonement. She will know that I kept my word to her. She gave me that ring, Evelyn."

He held out his hand for a moment

"It was a pledge that I should never draw back from my allegiance to the Society. Well, neither she nor I then fancied this thing could happen; but now I am not going to turn coward. You saw me show the white feather, Evelyn, for a minute or two: I don't think it was about myself; it was about her--and--and one or two others. You see our talking together has sent off all that nervous excitement; now we can speak about business--"

"I will not--I will not!" Evelyn said, still greatly moved. "I will go to Lind himself. I will tell him that no duty of this kind was ever contemplated by any one joining here. It may be all very well for Naples or Sicily; it won't do for the people on this side the Channel: it will ruin his work: he must appeal--I will drive him to it!"

"My dear fellow," Brand said, quietly, "I told you Lind has accepted the execution of this affair with reluctance. He knows it will do our work--well, my share in it will be soon over--no good. But in this business there in no appeal. You are only a companion; you don't know what stringent vows you have to undertake when you get into the other grades. Moreover, I must tell you this thing to his credit. He is not bound to take the risk of the ballot himself, but he did to-night. It is all over and settled, Evelyn. What is one man's life, more or less? People go to throw away hundreds of thousands of lives 'with a light heart.' And even if this affair should give a slight shock to some of our friends here, the effect will not be permanent. The organization is too big, too strong, too eager, to be really injured by such a trifle. I want to talk about business matters now."

"I won't hear you--I will not allow this," Lord Evelyn protested, trembling with excitement.

"You must hear me; the time is short," Brand said, with decision. "When this thing has to be done I don't know; I shall probably hear to-morrow; but I must at once take steps to prevent shame falling on the few relatives I have. I shall pretend to set out on some hunting-expedition or other--Africa is a good big place for one to lose one's self in--and if I do not return, what then? I shall leave you my executor, Evelyn; or, rather, it will be safer to do the whole thing by deed of gift. I shall give my eldest sister's son the Buckinghamshire place; then I must leave the other one something. Five hundred pounds at four per cent, would pay that poor devil Kirski's rent for him, and help him on a bit. Then I am going to make you a present, Evelyn; so you see you shall benefit too. Then as for Natalie--or rather, her mother--"

"Her mother!" Evelyn stared at him.

"Natalie's mother is in London: you will learn her story from herself," Brand continued, briefly. "In the mean time, do not tell Lind until she permits you. I have taken rooms for her in Hans Place, and Natalie will no doubt go to see her each day; but I am afraid the poor lady is not very well off, for the family has always been in political troubles. Well, you see, Evelyn, I could leave you a certain sum, the interest of which you could manage to convey to her in some roundabout and delicate way that would not hurt her pride. You could do this, of course."

"But you are talking as if your death was certain!" Lord Evelyn exclaimed, rather wildly. "Even if it is all true, you might escape."

Brand turned away his head as he spoke.

"Do you think, then," he said, slowly, "that, even if that were possible, I should care to live red-handed? The Council cannot demand that of me too. If there is one bullet for him, the next one will be for myself; and if I miss the first shot I shall make sure about the second. There will be no examination of the prisoner, as far as I am concerned. I shall leave a paper stating the object and cause of my attempt; but I shall go into it nameless, and the happiest thing I can hope for is that forgetfulness will gather round it and me as speedily as may be."

Lord Evelyn was deeply distressed. He could no longer refuse to believe; and inadvertently he bethought himself of the time when he had besought and entreated this old friend of his to join the great movement that was to regenerate Europe. Was this the end, then--a vulgar crime?--the strong, manly, generous life to be thrown away, and Natalie left broken-hearted?

"What about her?" he asked, timidly.

"About Natalie, do you mean?" said Brand, starting somewhat. "Curiously enough, I was thinking about her also. I was wondering whether it could be concealed from her--whether it would not be better to let her imagine with the others that I had got drowned or killed somewhere. But I could not do that. The uncertainty would hang over her for years. Better the sharp pain, at once--of parting; then her mother must take charge of her and console her, and be kind to her. What I fear most is that she may blame herself--she may fancy that she is some how responsible--"

"It is I, surely, who must take, that blame on myself," said Lord Evelyn, sadly. "But for me, how could you have been led into joining the Society?"

"Neither she nor you have anything to reproach yourselves with. What was my life worth to me when I joined? Then for a time I saw a vision of what may yet be in the world--of what will be, please God; and what does it matter if one here or one there falls out of the ranks?--the great army is moving on: and for a time there were others visions. Poor Natalie!--I am glad her mother has come to her at last."

He rose.

"I wish I could offer you a bed here," Lord Evelyn said.

"I have a great many things to arrange to-night," he answered, simply. "Perhaps I may not be able to get to bed at all."

Lord Evelyn hesitated.

"When can I see you to-morrow?" he said at length. "You know I am going to Lind the first thing in the morning."

Brand stopped abruptly.

"I must absolutely forbid your doing anything of the kind," said he, firmly. "This is a matter of the greatest secrecy; there is to be no talking about it; I have given you some hint, and the same I shall give to Natalie, and there an end." He added, "Your interference would be quite useless, Evelyn. The matter is not in Lind's hands."

He bade his friend good-night.

"Thank you for letting me bore you so long. You see, I expected talking over the thing would drive off that first shock of nervousness. Now I am going to play the part of Karl Sand with indifference. When you hear of me, you will think I must have been brought up by the Tugendbund or the Carbonari, or some of those societies."

This cheerfulness did not quite deceive Lord Evelyn. He bade his friend good-night with some sadness; his mind was not at ease about the share he attributed to himself in this calamity.

When Brand reached his chambers in Buckingham Street there was a small parcel awaiting him. He opened it, and found a box with, inside, a tiny nosegay of sweet-smelling flowers. These were not half as splendid as those he had got the previous afternoon for the rooms in Hans Place, but there was something accompanying them that gave them sufficient value. It was a strip of paper, and on it was written--"From Natalie and from Natalushka, with more than thanks."

"I will carry them with me," he thought to himself, "until the day of my death. Perhaps they may not have quite withered by then."

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