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Full Online Book HomeLong StoriesSunrise - Chapter 7. In Solitude
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Sunrise - Chapter 7. In Solitude Post by :sbeard Category :Long Stories Author :William Black Date :May 2012 Read :3471

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Sunrise - Chapter 7. In Solitude

CHAPTER VII. IN SOLITUDE

A blustering, cold morning in March; the skies lowering, the wind increasing, and heavy showers being driven up from time to time from the black and threatening south-west. This was strange weather to make a man think of going to the seaside; and of all places at the seaside to Dover, and of all places in Dover to the Lord Warden Hotel, which was sure to be filled with fear-stricken foreigners, waiting for the sea to calm. Waters, as he packed the small portmanteau, could not at all understand this freak on the part of his master.

"If Lord Evelyn calls, sir," he said at the station, "when shall I say you will be back?"

"In a few days, perhaps. I don't know."

He had a compartment to himself; and away the train went through the wet and dismal and foggy country, with the rain pouring down the panes of the carriage. The dismal prospect outside, however, did not matter much to this solitary traveller. He turned his back to the window, and read all the way down.

At Dover the outlook was still more dismal. A dirty, yellow-brown sea was rolling heavily in, springing white along the Admiralty Pier; gusts of rain were sweeping along the thoroughfare between the station and the hotel; in the hotel itself the rooms were occupied by a miscellaneous collection of dissatisfied folk, who aimlessly read the advertisements in Bradshaw, or stared through the dripping windows at the yellow waves outside. This was the condition of affairs when George Brand took up his residence there. He was quite alone; but he had a sufficiency of books with him; and so deeply engaged was he with these, that he let the ordinary coffee-room discussions about the weather pass absolutely unheeded.

On the second morning a number of the travellers plucked up heart of grace and embarked, though the weather was still squally. George Brand was not in the least interested as to the speculations of those who remained about the responsibilities of the passage. He drew his chair toward the fire, and relapsed into his reading.

This day, however, was varied by his making the acquaintance of a little old French lady, which he did by means of her two granddaughters, Josephine, and Veronique. Veronique, having been pushed by Josephine, stumbled against Mr. Brand's knee, and would inevitably have fallen into the fireplace had he not caught her. Thereupon the little old lady, hurrying across the room, and looking very much inclined to box the ears of both Josephine and Veronique, most profusely apologized, in French, to monsieur. Monsieur replying in that tongue, said it was of no consequence whatever. Then madame greatly delighted at finding some one, not a waiter, to whom she could speak in her own language, continued the conversation, and very speedily made monsieur the confident of all her hopes and fears about that terrible business the Channel passage. No doubt monsieur was also waiting for this dreadful storm to abate?

Monsieur quickly perceived that so long as this voluble little old lady--who was as yellow as a frog, and had beady black eyes, but whose manner was exceedingly charming--chose to attach herself to him, his pursuit of knowledge was not likely to be attended with much success, so he shut the book on his finger, and pleasantly said to her,

"Oh no, madame; I am only waiting here for some friends."

Madame was greatly alarmed: surely they would not cross in such frightful weather? Monsieur ventured to think it was not so very bad. Then the little French lady glanced out at the window, and threw up her hands, and said with a shudder,

"Frightful! Truly frightful. What should I do with those two little ones ill, and myself ill? The sea might sweep them away!"

Mr. Brand, having observed something of the manners of Josephine and Veronique, was inwardly of opinion that the sea might be worse employed: but what he said was--

"You could take a deck-cabin, madame."

Madame again shuddered.

"Your friends are English, no doubt, monsieur; the English are not so much afraid of storms."

"No, madame, they are not English; but I do not think they would let such a day as this, for example, hinder them. They are not likely, however, to be on their way back for a day or two. To-morrow I may run over to Calais, just on the chance of crossing with them again."

Here was a mad Englishman, to be sure! When people, driven by dire necessity, had their heart in their mouth at the very notion of encountering that rough sea, here was a person who thought of crossing and returning for no reason on earth--a trifling compliment to his friends--a pleasure excursion--a break in the monotony of the day!

"And I shall be pleased to look after the little ones, madame," said he, politely, "if you are going over."

Madame thanked him very profusely; but assured him that so long as the weather looked so stormy she could not think of intrusting Josephine and Veronique to the mercy of the waves.

Now, if George Brand had little hope of meeting his friends that day, he acted pretty much as if he were expecting some one. First of all, he had secured a saloon-carriage in the afternoon mail-train to London--an unnecessary luxury for a bachelor well accustomed to the hardships of travel. Then he had managed to procure a handsome bouquet of freshly-cut flowers. Finally, there was some mysterious arrangement by which fruit, cakes, tea, and wine were to be ready at a moment's notice in the event of that saloon-carriage being required.

Then, as soon as the rumor went through the hotel that the vessel was in sight, away he went down the pier, with his coat-collar tightly buttoned, and his hat jammed down. What a toy-looking thing the steamer was, away out there in the mists or the rain, with the brown line of smoke stretching back to the horizon! She was tossing and rolling a good deal among the brown waves: he almost hoped his friends were not on board. And he wished that all the more when he at length saw the people clamber up the gangway--a miserable procession of half-drowned folk, some of them scarcely able to walk. No; his friends were not there. He returned to the hotel, and to his books.

But the attentions of Josephine and Veronique had become too pressing; so he retired from the reading-room, and took refuge in his own room up-stairs. It fronted the sea. He could hear the long, monotonous, continuous wash of the waves: from time to time the windows rattled with the wind.

He took from his portmanteau another volume from that he had been reading, and sat down by the window. But he had only read a line or two when he turned and looked absently out on the sea. Was he trying to recall, amidst all that confused and murmuring noise, some other sound that seemed to haunt him?

"Who is your lady of love, oh ye that pass Singing?"

Was he trying to recall that pathetic thrill in his friend Evelyn's voice which he knew was but the echo of another voice? He had never heard Natalie Lind read: but he knew that that was how she had read, when Evelyn's sensitive nature had heard and been permeated by the strange tremor. And now, as he opened the book again, whose voice was it he seemed to hear, in the silence of the small room, amidst the low and constant murmur of the waves?

"--And ye shall die before your thrones be won.
--Yea, and the changed world and the liberal sun
Shall move and shine with out us, and we lie
Dead; but if she too move on earth and live--
But if the old world, with all the old irons rent,
Laugh and give thanks, shall we be not content?
Nay, we shall rather live, we shall not die,
Life being so little, and death so good to give.

* * * * * * *

"--But ye that might be clothed with all things pleasant,
Ye are foolish that put off the fair soft present,
That clothe yourselves with the cold future air;
When mother and father, and tender sister and brother,
And the old live love that was shall be as ye,
Dust, and no fruit of loving life shall be.
--She shall be yet who is more than all these were,
Than sister or wife or father unto us or mother."

He turned again to the window, to the driven yellow sea, and the gusts of rain. Surely there was no voice to be heard from other and farther shores?

"--Is this worth life, is this to win for wages?
Lo, the dead mouths of the awful gray-grown ages,
The venerable, in the past that is their prison,
In the outer darkness, in the unopening grave,
Laugh, knowing how many as ye now say have said--
How many, and all are fallen, are fallen and dead:
Shall ye dead rise, and these dead have not risen?
--Not we but she, who is tender and swift to save.

"--Are ye not weary, and faint not by the way,
Seeing night by night devoured of day by day,
Seeing hour by hour consumed in sleepless fire?
Sleepless: and ye too, when shall ye too sleep?
--We are weary in heart and head, in hands and feet,
And surely more than all things sleep were sweet,
Than all things save the inexorable desire
Which whoso knoweth shall neither faint nor weep."

He rose, and walked up and down for a time. What would one not give for a faith like that?

"--Is this so sweet that one were fain to follow?
Is this so sure where all men's hopes are hollow,
Even this your dream, that by much tribulation
Ye shall make whole flawed hearts, and bowed necks straight?
--Nay, though our life were blind, our death were fruitless,
Not therefore were the whole world's high hope rootless;
But man to man, nation would turn to nation,
And the old life live, and the old great world be great."

With such a faith--with that "inexorable desire" burning in the heart and the brain--surely one could find the answer easy enough to the last question of the poor creatures who wonder at the way-worn pilgrims,

"--Pass on then, and pass by us and let us be,
For what light think ye after life to see?
And if the world fare better will ye know?
And if man triumph who shall seek you and say?"

That he could answer for himself, at any rate. He was not one to put much store by the fair soft present; and if he were to enter upon any undertaking such as that he had had but a glimpse of, neither personal reward nor hope of any immediate success would be the lure. He would be satisfied to know that his labor or his life had been well spent. But whence was to come that belief? whence the torch to kindle the sacred fire?

The more he read, during these days of waiting, of the books and pamphlets he had brought with him, the less clear seemed the way before him. He was struck with admiration when he read of those who had forfeited life or liberty in this or the other cause; and too often with despair when he came to analyze their aims. Once or twice, indeed, he was so moved by the passionate eloquence of some socialist writer that he was ready to say, "Well, the poor devils have toiled long enough; give them their turn, let the revolution cost what it may!" And then immediately afterward: "What! Stir up the unhappy wretches to throw themselves on the bayonets of the standing armies of Europe? There is no emancipation for them that way."

But when he turned from the declamation and the impracticable designs of this impassioned literature to the vast scheme of co-operation that had been suggested rather than described to him, there seemed more hope. If all these various forces that were at work could be directed into one channel, what might they not accomplish? Weed out the visionary, the impracticable, the anarchical from their aims; and then what might not be done by this convergence of all these eager social movements? Lind, he argued with himself, was not at all a man likely to devote himself to optimistic dreams. Further than that--and here he was answering a suspicion that again and again recurred to him--what if, in such a great social movement, men were to be found who were only playing for their own hand? That was the case in every such combination. But false or self-seeking agents neither destroyed the nobleness of the work nor could defeat it in the end if it were worthy to live. They might try to make for themselves what use they could of the current, but they too were swept onward to the sea.

So he argued, and communed, and doubted, and tried to believe. And all through it--whether he paced up and down by the sea in the blustering weather, or strolled away through the town and up the face of the tall white cliff, or lay awake in the dark night, listening to the rush and moan of the waves--all through these doubts and questions there was another and sweeter and clearer sound, that seemed to come from afar--

"She shall be yet who is more than all these were,
Than sister or wife or father unto us or mother."

However loud the sea was at night, that was the sound he heard, clear and sweet--the sound of a girl's voice, that had joy in it, and faith in the future, and that spoke to him of what was to be.

Well, the days passed; and still his friends did not come. He had many trips across, to while away the time: and had become great friends with the stout, black-haired French captain. He had conveyed Josephine and Veronique and their little grandmother safely over, and had made them as comfortable as was possible under trying circumstances. And always and every day there were freshly-cut flowers and renewed fruit, and a re-engaged saloon-carriage waiting for those strangers who did not come; until both hotel people and railway people began to think Mr. Brand as mad as the little French lady assured herself he was, when he said he meant to cross the Channel twice for nothing.

At last--at last! He had strolled up to the Calais station, and was standing on the platform when the train came in. But there was no need for him to glance eagerly up and down at the now opening doors; for who was this calmly regarding him--or rather regarding him with a smile of surprise? Despite the big furred cloak and the hood, he knew at once; he darted forward, lifted the lower latch and opened the door, and gave her his hand.

"Oh, how do you do, Mr. Brand?" said she, with a pleasant look of welcome. "Who could have expected to meet you here?"

He was confused, embarrassed, bewildered. This voice so strangely recalled those sounds that had been haunting him for days. He could only stammer out,

"I--I happened to be at Dover, and thought I would run over here for a little bit. How lucky you are--it is such a beautiful day for crossing."

"That is good news; I must tell papa," said Natalie, cheerfully, as she turned again to the open door.

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