Grant Allen.

The Beckoning Hand, and Other Stories



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Flushing scarlet and blanching white alternately with the fierceness of his anger, Ernest Carnegie turned down, all on fire, to the river's edge. Should he take a boat and row up after them to prevent the supplanter at least from proposing to Isabel unopposed? That would at any rate give him something to do – muscular work for his arms, if nothing else, to counteract the fire within him; but on second thoughts, no, it would be quite useless. The steam launch had had a good start of him, and no oarsman could catch up with it now by any possibility. So he walked about up and down near the river, chafing in soul and nursing his wrath against Harold for three long weary hours. And all that time Harold, false-hearted, fair-spoken, mean-spirited Harold, was enjoying himself and playing the gallant to Isabel Walters!

Minute by minute the hours wore away, and with every minute Ernest's indignation grew deeper and deeper. At last he heard the snort of the steam-launch ploughing its way lustily down the river, and he stood on the bank waiting for the guilty Harold to disembark.

As Harold stepped from the launch, and gave his hand to Isabel, he saw the white and bloodless face of his brother looking up at him contemptuously and coldly from beside the landing. Harold passed ashore and close by him, but Ernest never spoke a word. He only looked a moment at Isabel, and said to her with enforced calmness, "You got my letter, Miss Walters?"

Isabel, hardly comprehending the real solemnity of the occasion, answered with a light smile, "I did, Mr. Carnegie, but you didn't keep your appointment. Your brother came, and he has been beforehand with you." And she touched his hand lightly and went on to join her hostess.

Still Ernest Carnegie said nothing, but walked on, as black as night, beside his brother. Neither spoke a word; but after the shaking of hands and farewells were over, both turned together to the railway station. The carriage was crowded, and so Ernest still held his tongue.

At last, when they reached home and stood in the passage together, Ernest looked at his brother with a look of withering scorn, and, livid with anger, found his voice at last.

"Harold Carnegie," he said, in a low husky tone, "you are a mean intercepter of other men's letters; a sneaking supplanter of other men's appointments; a cur and a traitor whom I don't wish any longer to associate with. I know what you have done, and I know how you have done it. You have kept my engagement with Isabel Walters by reading the impression of my notes on the blotting-book. You are unfit for a gentleman to speak to, and I cast you off, now and for ever."

Harold looked at him defiantly, but said never a word.

"Harold Carnegie," Ernest said again, "I could hardly believe your treachery until it was forced upon me. This is the last time I shall ever speak to you."

Harold looked at him again, this time perhaps with a tinge of remorse in his expression, and said nothing but, "Oh, Ernest."

Ernest made a gesture with his hands as though he would repel him.

"Don't come near me," he said; "Harold Carnegie, don't touch me! Don't call me by my name! I will have nothing more to say or do with you."

Harold turned away in dead silence, and went to his own room, trembling with conscious humiliation and self-reproach. But he did not attempt to make the only atonement in his power by giving up Isabel Walters. That would have been too much for human nature.

VI

When Harold Carnegie was finally married to Isabel Walters, Ernest stopped away from the wedding, and would have nothing whatever to say either to bride or bridegroom. He would leave his unnatural brother, he said, solely and entirely to the punishment of his own guilty conscience.

Still, he couldn't rest quiet in his father's house after Harold was gone, so he took himself small rooms near the hospital, and there he lived his lonely life entirely by himself, a solitary man, brooding miserably over his own wrongs and Harold's treachery. There was only one single woman in the world, he said, with whom he could ever have been really happy – Isabel Walters: and Harold had stolen Isabel Walters away from him by the basest treason. Once he could have loved Isabel, and her only; now, because she was Harold's wife, he bitterly hated her. Yes, hated her! With a deadly hatred he hated both of them.

Months went by slowly for Ernest Carnegie, in the dull drudgery of his hopeless professional life, for he cared nothing now for ambition or advancement; he lived wholly in the past, nursing his wrath, and devouring his own soul in angry regretfulness. Months went by, and at last Harold's wife gave birth to a baby – a boy, the exact image of his father and his uncle. Harold looked at the child in the nurse's arms, and said remorsefully, "We will call him Ernest. It is all we can do now, Isabel. We will call him Ernest, after my dear lost brother." So they called him Ernest, in the faint hope that his uncle's heart might relent a little; and Harold wrote a letter full of deep and bitter penitence to his brother, piteously begging his forgiveness for the grievous wrong he had wickedly and deliberately done him. But Ernest still nursed his righteous wrath silently in his own bosom, and tore up the letter into a thousand fragments, unanswered.

When the baby was five months old, Edie Carnegie came round hurriedly one morning to Ernest's lodgings near the hospital. "Ernest, Ernest," she cried, running up the stairs in great haste, "we want you to come round and see Harold. We're afraid he's very ill. Don't say you won't come and see him!"

Ernest Carnegie listened and smiled grimly. "Very ill," he muttered, with a dreadful gleam in his eyes. "Very ill, is he? and I have had nothing the matter with me! How curious! Very ill! I ought to have had the same illness a fortnight ago. Ha, ha! The cycle is broken! The clocks have ceased to strike together! His marriage has altered the run of his constitution – mine remains the same steady striker as ever. I thought it would! I thought it would! Perhaps he'll die, now, the mean, miserable traitor!"

Edie Carnegie looked at him in undisguised horror. "Oh, Ernest," she cried, with the utmost dismay; "your own brother! Your own brother! Surely you'll come and see him, and tell us what's the matter."

"Yes, I'll come and see him," Ernest answered, unmoved, taking up his hat. "I'll come and see him, and find out what's the matter." But there was an awful air of malicious triumph in his tone, which perfectly horrified his trembling sister.

When Ernest reached his brother's house, he went at once to Harold's bedside, and without a word of introduction or recognition he began inquiring into the nature of his symptoms, exactly as he would have done with any unknown and ordinary patient. Harold told him them all, simply and straightforwardly, without any more preface than he would have used with any other doctor. When Ernest had finished his diagnosis, he leaned back carelessly in his easy chair, folded his arms sternly, and said in a perfectly cold, clear, remorseless voice, "Ah, I thought so; yes, yes, I thought so. It's a serious functional disorder of the heart; and there's very little hope indeed that you'll ever recover from it. No hope at all, I may say; no hope at all, I'm certain. The thing has been creeping upon you, creeping upon you, evidently, for a year past, and it has gone too far now to leave the faintest hope of ultimate recovery."

Isabel burst into tears at the words – calmly spoken as though they were perfectly indifferent to both speaker and hearers; but Harold only rose up fiercely in the bed, and cried in a tone of the most imploring agony, "Oh, Ernest, Ernest, if I must die, for Heaven's sake, before I die, say you forgive me, do say, do say you forgive me. Oh, Ernest, dear Ernest, dear brother Ernest, for the sake of our long, happy friendship, for the sake of the days when we loved one another with a love passing the love of women, do, do say you will at last forgive me."

Ernest rose and fumbled nervously for a second with the edge of his hat. "Harold Carnegie," he said at last, in a voice trembling with excitement, "I can never forgive you. You acted a mean, dirty part, and I can never forgive you. Heaven may, perhaps it will; but as for me, I can never, never, never forgive you!"

Harold fell back feebly and wearily upon the pillows. "Ernest, Ernest," he cried, gasping, "you might forgive me! you ought to forgive me! you must forgive me! and I'll tell you why. I didn't want to say it, but now you force me. I know it as well as if I'd seen you do it. In my place, I know to a certainty, Ernest, you'd have done exactly as I did. Ernest Carnegie, you can't look me straight in the face and tell me that you wouldn't have acted exactly as I did."

That terrible unspoken truth, long known, but never confessed, even to himself, struck like a knife on Ernest's heart. He raised his hat blindly, and walked with unsteady steps out of the sick-room. At that moment, his own conscience smote him with awful vividness. Looking into the inmost recesses of his angry heart, he felt with a shudder that Harold had spoken the simple truth, and he dared not lie by contradicting him. In Harold's place he would have done exactly as Harold did! And that was just what made his deathless anger burn all the more fiercely and fervidly against his brother!

Groping his way down the stairs alone in a stunned and dazzled fashion, Ernest Carnegie went home in his agony to his lonely lodgings, and sat there solitary with his own tempestuous thoughts for the next eight-and-forty hours. He did not undress or lie down to sleep, though he dozed a little at times uneasily in his big arm-chair; he did not eat or drink much; he merely paced up and down his room feverishly, and sent his boy round at intervals of an hour or two to know how the doctor thought Mr. Harold Carnegie was getting on. The boy returned every time with uniformly worse and worse reports. Ernest rubbed his hands in horrid exultation: "Ah," he said to himself, eagerly, "he will die! he will die! he will pay the penalty of his dirty treachery! He has brought it all upon himself by marrying that wicked woman! He deserves it every bit for his mean conduct."

On the third morning, Edie came round again, this time with her mother. Both had tears in their eyes, and they implored Ernest with sobs and entreaties to come round and see Harold once more before he died. Harold was raving and crying for him in his weakness and delirium. But Ernest was like adamant. He would not go to see him, he said, not if they went down bodily on their knees before him.

At midday, the boy went again, and stayed a little longer than usual. When he returned, he brought back word that Mr. Harold Carnegie had died just as the clock was striking the hour. Ernest listened with a look of terror and dismay, and then broke down into a terrible fit of sobbing and weeping. When Edie came round a little later to tell him that all was over, she found him crying like a child in his own easy chair, and muttering to himself in a broken fashion how dearly he and Harold had loved one another years ago, when they were both happy children together.

Edie took him round to his brother's house, and there, over the deaf and blind face that lay cold upon the pillows, he cried the cry that he would not cry over his living, imploring brother. "Oh, Harold, Harold," he groaned in his broken agony, "I forgive you, I forgive you. I too sinned as you did. What you would do, I would do. It was bound up in both our natures. In your place I would have done as you did. But now the curse of Cain is upon me! A worse curse than Cain's is upon me! I have more than killed my brother!"

For a day or two Ernest went back, heart-broken, to his father's house, and slept once more in the old room where he used to sleep so long, next door to Harold's. At the end of three days, he woke once from one of his short snatches of sleep with a strange fluttering feeling in his left side. He knew in a moment what it was. It was the same disease that Harold had died of.

"Thank Heaven!" he said to himself eagerly, "thank Heaven, thank Heaven for that! Then I didn't wholly kill him! His blood isn't all upon my poor unhappy head. After all, his marriage didn't quite upset the harmony of the two clocks; it only made the slower one catch up for a while and pass the faster. I'm a fortnight later in striking than Harold this time; that's all. In three days more the clock will run down, and I shall die as he did."

And, true to time, in three days more, as the clock struck twelve, Ernest Carnegie died as his brother Harold had done before him, with the agonized cry for forgiveness trembling on his fevered lips – who knows whether answered or unanswered?

OLGA DAVIDOFF'S HUSBAND

I

Tobolsk, though a Siberian metropolis, is really a very pleasant place to pass a winter in. Like the western American cities, where everybody has made his money easily and spends it easily, it positively bubbles over with bad champagne, cheap culture, advanced thought, French romances, and all the other most recent products of human industry and ingenuity. Everybody eats p?t? de foie gras, quotes Hartmann and Herbert Spencer, uses electric bells, believes in woman's rights, possesses profound views about the future of Asia, and had a grandfather who was a savage Samoyede or an ignorant Buriat. Society is extremely cultivated, and if you scratch it ever so little, you see the Tartar. Nevertheless, it considers itself the only really polite and enlightened community on the whole face of this evolving terrestrial planet.

The Davidoffs, however, who belonged to the most advanced section of mercantile society in all Tobolsk, were not originally Siberians, or even Russians, by birth or nationality. Old Mr. Davidoff, the grandfather, who founded the fortunes of the family in St. Petersburg, was a Welsh Davids; and he had altered his name by the timely addition of a Slavonic suffix in order to conciliate the national susceptibilities of Orthodox Russia. His son, Dimitri, whom for the same reason he had christened in honour of a Russian saint, removed the Russian branch of the house to Tobolsk (they were in the Siberian fur-trade), and there marrying a German lady of the name of Freytag, had one daughter and heiress, Olga Davidoff, the acknowledged belle of Tobolskan society. It was generally understood in Tobolsk that the Davidoffs were descended from Welsh princes (as may very likely have been the case – though one would really like to know what has become of all the descendants of Welsh subjects), if indeed they were not even remotely connected with the Prince of Wales himself in person.

The winter of 1873 (as everybody will remember) was a very cold one throughout Siberia. The rivers froze unusually early, and troikas had entirely superseded torosses on all the roads as early as the very beginning of October. Still, Tobolsk was exceedingly gay for all that; in the warm houses of the great merchants, with their tropical plants kept at summer heat by stoves and flues all the year round, nobody noticed the exceptional rigour of that severe season. Balls and dances followed one another in quick succession, and Olga Davidoff, just twenty, enjoyed herself as she had never before done in all her lifetime. It was such a change to come to the concentrated gaities and delights of Tobolsk after six years of old Miss Waterlow's Establishment for Young Ladies, at The Laurels, Clapham.

That winter, for the first time, Baron Niaz, the Buriat, came to Tobolsk.

Exquisitely polished in manners, and very handsome in face and bearing, there was nothing of the Tartar anywhere visible about Baron Niaz. He had been brought up in Paris, at a fashionable Lyc?e, and he spoke French with perfect fluency, as well as with some native sparkle and genuine cleverness. His taste in music was unimpeachable: even Madame Davidoff, n?e Freytag, candidly admitted that his performances upon the violin were singularly brilliant, profound, and appreciative. Moreover, though a Buriat chief, he was a most undoubted nobleman: at the Governor's parties he took rank, by patent of the Emperor Nicholas, as a real Russian baron of the first water. To be sure, he was nominally a Tartar; but what of that? His mother and his grandmother, he declared, had both been Russian ladies; and you had only to look at him to see that there was scarcely a drop of Tartar blood still remaining anywhere in him. If the half-caste negro is a brown mulatto, the quarter-caste a light quadroon, and the next remove a practically white octoroon, surely Baron Niaz, in spite of his remote Buriat great-grandfathers, might well pass for an ordinary everyday civilized Russian.

Olga Davidoff was fairly fascinated by the accomplished young baron. She met him everywhere, and he paid her always the most marked and flattering attention. He was a Buriat, to be sure: but at Tobolsk, you know – . Well, one mustn't be too particular about these little questions of origin in an Asiatic city.

It was at the Governor's dance, just before Christmas, that the Baron got his first good chance of talking with her for ten minutes alone among the fan palms and yuccas in the big conservatory. There was a seat in the far corner beside the flowering oleander, where the Baron led her after the fourth waltz, and leant over her respectfully as she played with her Chinese fan, half trembling at the declaration she knew he was on the point of making to her.

"Mademoiselle Davidoff," the Baron began in French, with a lingering cadence as he pronounced her name, and a faint tremor in his voice that thrilled responsively through her inmost being; "Mademoiselle Davidoff, I have been waiting long for this opportunity of speaking to you alone, because I have something of some importance – to me at least, mademoiselle – about which I wish to confer with you. Mademoiselle, will you do me the honour to listen to me patiently a minute or two? The matter about which I wish to speak to you is one that may concern yourself, too, more closely than you at first imagine."

What a funny way to begin proposing to one! Olga Davidoff's heart beat violently as she answered as unconcernedly as possible, "I shall be glad, M. le Baron, I'm sure, to listen to any communication that you may wish to make to me."

"Mademoiselle," the young man went on almost timidly – how handsome he looked as he stood there bending over her in his semi-barbaric Tartar uniform! – "mademoiselle, the village where I live in our own country is a lonely one among the high mountains. You do not know the Buriat country – it is wild, savage, rugged, pine-clad, snow-clad, solitary, inaccessible, but very beautiful. Even the Russians do not love it; but we love it, we others, who are to the manner born. We breathe there the air of liberty, and we prefer our own brawling streams and sheer precipices to all the artificial stifling civilization of Paris and St. Petersburg."

Olga looked at him and smiled quietly. She saw at once how he wished to break it to her, and held her peace like a wise maiden.

"Yes, mademoiselle," the young man went on, flooding her each moment with the flashing light from his great luminous eyes; "my village in the Buriat country lies high up beside the eternal snows. But though we live alone there, so far from civilization that we seldom see even a passing traveller, our life is not devoid of its own delights and its own interests. I have my own people all around me; I live in my village as a little prince among his own subjects. My people are few, but they are very faithful. Mademoiselle has been educated in England, I believe?"

"Yes," Olga answered. "In London, M. le Baron. I am of English parentage, and my father sent me there to keep up the connection with his old fatherland, where one branch of our House is still established."

"Then, mademoiselle, you will doubtless have read the tales of Walter Scott?"

Olga smiled curiously. "Yes," she said, amused at his na?vet?, "I have certainly read them." She began to think that after all the handsome young Buriat couldn't mean really to propose to her.

"Well, you know, in that case, what was the life of a Highland chieftain in Scotland, when the Highland chieftains were still practically all but independent. That, mademoiselle, is exactly the life of a modern Buriat nobleman under the Russian empire. He has his own little territory and his own little people; he lives among them in his own little antiquated fortress; he acknowledges nominally the sovereignty of the most orthodox Czar, and even perhaps exchanges for a Russian title the Tartar chieftainship handed down to him in unbroken succession from his earliest forefathers. But in all the rest he still remains essentially independent. He rules over a little principality of his own, and cares not a fig in his own heart for czar, or governor, or general, or minister."



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