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Full Online Book HomeLong StoriesSunrise - Chapter 43. A Quarrel
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Sunrise - Chapter 43. A Quarrel Post by :vbhnl Category :Long Stories Author :William Black Date :May 2012 Read :897

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Sunrise - Chapter 43. A Quarrel


Meanwhile, almost immediately after George Brand had left the house in Lisle Street, Reitzei and Beratinsky left also. On shutting the street-door behind them, Beratinsky bade a curt good-night to his companion, and turned to go; but Reitzei, who seemed to be in very high spirits, stayed him.

"No, no, friend Beratinsky; after such a fine night's work I say we must have a glass of wine together. We will walk up to the Culturverein."

"It is late," said the other, somewhat ungraciously.

"Never mind. An hour, three-quarters of an hour, half an hour, what matter? Come," said he, laying hold of his arm and taking him away unwillingly, "it is not polite of you to force me to invite myself. I do not suppose it is the cost of the wine you are thinking of. Mark my words: when I am elected a member, I shall not be stingy."

Beratinsky suffered himself to be led away, and together the two walked up toward Oxford Street. Beratinsky was silent, and even surly: Reitzei garrulous and self-satisfied.

"Yes, I repeat it; a good night's work. For the thing had to be done; there were the Council's orders; and who so appropriate as the Englishman? Had it been you or I, Beratinsky, or Lind, how could any one of us have been spared? No doubt the Englishman would have been glad to have Lind's place, and Lind's daughter, too: however, that is all settled now, and very well done. I say it was very well done on the part of Lind. And what did you think of my part, friend Beratinsky?"

"I think you made a fool of yourself, friend Reitzei," said the other, abruptly.

Reitzei was a vain young man, and he had been fishing for praise.

"I don't know what you mean," he said, angrily.

"What I mean I say," replied the other, with something very like cool contempt. "I say you made a fool of yourself. When a man is drunk, he does his best to appear sober; you, being sober, tried to appear drunk, and made a fool of yourself."

"My friend Beratinsky," said the younger man, hotly, "you have a right to your own opinion--every man has that; but you should take care not to make an ass of yourself by expressing it. Do not speak of things you know nothing about--that is my advice to you."

Beratinsky did not answer; and the two walked on in silence until they reached the _Verein_, and entered the long, resounding hall, which was nearly empty. But the few members who remained were making up for their paucity of numbers by their mirth and noise. As Beratinsky and his companion took their seats at the upper end of the table the chairman struck his hammer violently, and commanded silence.

"Silentium, meine Herren!" he thundered out. "I have a secret to communicate. A great honor has been done one of our members, and even his overwhelming modesty permits it to be known at last. Our good friend Josef Hempel has been appointed Hof-maler to the Grand-duke of ----. I call in you to drink his health and the Grand-duke's too!"

Then there was a quick filling of glasses; a general uprising; cries of "Hempel! Hempel!" "The Duke!" followed by a resounding chorus--

"Hoch sollen sie leben!
Hoch sollen sie leben!
Dreimal hoch!"--

that echoed away down the empty hall. Then the tumult subsided; and the president, rising, said gravely,

"I now call on our good friend Hempel to reply to the toast, and to give us a few remarks on the condition of art in the Grand Duchy of ----, with some observations and reflections on the altered position of the Duchy since the unification of our Fatherland."

In answer to this summons there rose to his feet a short old gentleman, with a remarkably fresh complexion, silvery-white hair, and merry blue eyes that peered through gold-rimmed spectacles. He was all smiles and blushes; and the longer they cheered the more did he smile and blush.

"Gentlemen," he said; and this was the signal for further cheering; "Gentlemen," said the blushing orator, at length, "our friend is at his old tricks. I cannot make a speech to you--except this: I ask you to drink a glass of champagne with me. Kellner--Champagner!"

And he incontinently dropped into his seat again, having forgotten altogether to acknowledge the compliment paid to himself and the Grand-duke.

However, this was like the letting in of water; for no sooner had the two or three bottles ordered by Herr Hempel been exhausted than one after another of his companions seemed to consider it was their turn now, and loud-shouted orders were continually being administered to the busy waiter. Wine flowed and sparkled; cigars were freely exchanged; the volume of conversation rose in tone, for all were speaking at once; the din became fast and furious.

In the midst of all this Reitzei alone sat apart and silent. Ever since coming into the room the attention of Beratinsky had been monopolized by his neighbor, who had just come back from a great artistic _fete in some German town, and who, dressed as the Emperor Barbarossa, and followed by his knights, had ridden up the big staircase into the Town-hall. The festivities had lasted for a fortnight; the Staatsweinkeller had furnished liberal supplies; the Princess Adelheid had been present at the crowning ceremony. Then he had brought with him sketches of the various costumes, and so forth. Perhaps it was inadvertently that Beratinsky so grossly neglected his guest.

The susceptible vanity of Reitzei had been deeply wounded before he entered, but now the cup of his wrath was filled to overflowing. The more champagne he drank--and there was plenty coming and going--the more sullen he became. For the rest, he had forgotten the circumstance that he had already drunk two glasses of brandy before his arrival, and that he had eaten nothing since mid-day.

At length Beratinsky turned to him.

"Will you have a cigar, Reitzei?"

Reitzei's first impulse was to refuse to speak; but his wrongs forced him. He said, coldly,

"No, thanks; I have already been offered a cigar by the gentleman next me. Perhaps you will kindly tell me how one, being sober, had any need to pretend to be sober?"

Beratinsky stared at him.

"Oh, you are thinking about that yet, are you?" he said, indifferently; and at this moment, as his neighbor called his attention to some further sketches, he again turned away.

But now the souls of the sons of the Fatherland, warmed with wine, began to think of home and love and patriotism, and longed for some more melodious utterances than this continuous guttural clatter. Silence was commanded. A handsome young fellow, slim and dark, clearly a Jew, ascended the platform, and sat down at the piano; the bashful Hempel, still blushing and laughing, was induced to follow; together they sung, amidst comparative silence, a duet of Mendelssohn's, set for tenor and barytone, and sung it very well indeed. There was great applause, but Hempel insisted on retiring. Left to himself, the young man with the handsome profile and the finely-set head played a few bars of prelude, and then, in a remarkably clear and resonant voice, sung Braga's mystical and tender serenade, the "_Legende Valaque_," amidst a silence now quite secured. But what was this one voice or that to all the passion of music demanding utterance? Soon there was a call to the young gentleman to play an accompaniment; and a huge black-a-vised Hessian, still sitting at the table, held up his brimming glass, and began, in a voice like a hundred kettle-drums,

"Ich nehm' mein Glaschen in die Hand:"

then came the universal shout of the chorus, ringing to the roof,

"Vive la Compagneia!"

Again the raucous voice bawled aloud,

"Und fahr' damit in's Unterland:"

and again the thunder of the chorus, this time prolonged, with much beating of time on the table, and jangling of wine-glasses,

"Vive la Compagneia! Vive la, vive la, vive la, va! vive la, vive la, hopsasa! Vive la Compagneia!"

And so on to the end, the chorus becoming stormier and more thunderous than ever; then, when peace had been restored, there was a general rising, though here and there a final glass was drunk with "stosst an! setzt an! fertig! los!" and its attendant ceremonies. The meeting had broken up by common consent; there was a shuffling of footsteps, and some disjointed talking and calling down the empty hall, were the lights were already being put out.

Reitzei had set silent during all this chorus-singing, though ordinarily, being an excitable person, and indeed rather proud of his voice, he was ready to roar with any one; and in silence, too, he walked away with Beratinsky, who either was or appeared to be quite unconscious of his companion's state of mind. At length Reitzei stopped short--Oxford Street at this time of the morning was perfectly silent--and said,

"Beratinsky, I have a word to say to you."

"Very well," said the other, though he seemed surprised.

"I may tell you your manners are none of the best."

Beratinsky looked at him.

"Nor your temper," said he, "one would think. Do you still go back to what I said about your piece of acting? You are a child, Reitzei."

"I do not care about that," said Reitzei, contemptuously, though he was not speaking the truth: his self-satisfaction had been grievously hurt. "You put too great a value on your opinion, Beratinsky; it is not everything that you know about: we will let that pass. But when one goes into a society as a guest, one expects to be treated as a guest. No matter; I was among my own countrymen: I was well enough entertained."

"It appears so," said Beratinsky, with a sneer: "I should say too well. My dear friend Reitzei, I am afraid you have been having a little too much champagne."

"It was none that you paid for, at all events," was the quick retort. "No matter; I was among my own countrymen: they are civil; they are not niggardly."

"They can afford to spend," said the other, laughing sardonically, "out of the plunder they take from others."

"They have fought for what they have," the other said, hotly. "Your countrymen--what have they ever done? Have they fought? No; they have conspired, and then run away."

But Beratinsky was much too cool-blooded a man to get into a quarrel of this kind; besides, he noticed that Reitzei's speech was occasionally a little thick.

"I would advise you to go home and get to bed, friend Reitzei," said he.

"Not until I have said something to you, Mr. Beratinsky," said the other with mock politeness. "I have this to say, that your ways of late have been a little too uncivil; you have been just rather too insolent, my good friend. Now I tell you frankly it does not do for one in your position to be uncivil and to make enemies."

"For one in my position!" Beratinsky repeated, in a tone of raillery.

"You think it is a joke, then, what happened to-night?"

"Oh, that is what you mean; but if that is my position, what other is yours, friend Reitzei?"

"You pretend not to know. I will tell you: that was got up between you and Lind; I had nothing to do with it."

"Ho! ho!"

"You may laugh; but take care you do not laugh the other way," said the younger man, who had worked himself into a fury, and was all the madder on account of the cynical indifference of his antagonist. "I tell you I had nothing to do with it; it was your scheme and Lind's; I did as I was bid. I tell you I could make this very plain if--"

He hesitated.

"Well--if what?" Beratinsky said, calmly.

"You know very well. I say you are not in a position to insult people and make enemies. You are a very clever man in your own estimation, my friend Beratinsky; but I would give you the advice to be a little more civil."

Beratinsky regarded him for a second in silence.

"I scarcely know whether it is worth while to point out certain things to you, friend Reitzei, or whether to leave you to go home and sleep off your anger."

"My anger, as you call it, is not a thing of the moment. Oh, I assure you it has nothing to do with the champagne I have just drunk, and which was not paid for by you, thank God! No; my anger--my wish to have you alter your manner a little--has been growing for some time; but it is of late, my dear Beratinsky, that you have become more unbearable than ever."

"Don't make a fool of yourself, Reitzei; I at least am not going to stand in the streets talking nonsense at two in the morning. Good-night!"

He stepped from the pavement on to the street, to cross.

"Stop!" said Reitzei, seizing his arm with both hands.

Beratinsky shook him off violently, and turned. There might have been a blow; but Reitzei, who was a coward, shrunk back.

Beratinsky advanced.

"Look here, Reitzei," he said, in a low voice, "I think you are sober enough to understand this. You were throwing out vague threats about what you might do or might not do; that means that you think you could go and tell something about the proceedings of to-night: you are a fool!"

"Very well--very well."

"Perhaps you do not remember, for example, Clause I., the very first clause in the Obligations binding on Officers of the Second Degree; you do not remember that, perhaps?" He was now talking in a quietly contemptuous way; the little spasm of anger that had disturbed him when Reitzei put his hands on his arm had immediately passed away. "The punishment for any one revealing, for any reason or purpose whatever, what has been done, or is about to be done by orders of the Council, or by any one acting under these orders--you remember the rest, my friend?--the punishment is death! My good Reitzei, do not deprive me of the pleasure of your companionship; and do not imagine that you can force people to be polite to you by threats; that is not the way at all. Go home and sleep away your anger; and do not imagine that you have any advantage in your position, or that you are less responsible for what has been done than any one."

"I am not so sure about that," said Reitzei, sullenly.

"In the morning you will be sure," said the other, compassionately, as if he were talking to a child.

He held out his hand.

"Come, friend Reitzei," said he, with a sort of pitying kindness, "you will find in the morning it will be all right. What happened to-night was well arranged, and well executed; everybody must be satisfied. And if you were a little too exuberant in your protestations, a little too anxious to accept the work yourself, and rather too demonstrative with your tremblings and your professions of courage and your clutching at the bottle: what then? Every one is not a born actor. Every one must make a mistake sometimes. But you won't take my hand?"

"Oh, Mr. Beratinsky," said the other, with profound sarcasm, "how could you expect it? Take the hand of one so wise as you, so great as you, such a logician as you are? It would be too much honor; but if you will allow me I will bid you good-night."

He turned abruptly and left. Beratinsky stood for a moment or so looking after him; then he burst into a fit of laughter that sounded along the empty street. Reitzei heard the laughing behind him.

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