Read CHAPTER XII of In Direst Peril , free online book, by David Christie Murray, on ReadCentral.com.

“Mr. Alpheas P. Quorn” was the name printed on the card of the visitor just announced, and I had scarcely cast my eye upon it when the man came in.  He was a prodigiously fat man, with a pigeon breast, and a neck so short that his tufted chin was set low down between his high shoulders.  He was dressed in actual burlesque of the fashion then prevailing; but, spruce as he was, he nursed undisguisedly a huge quid of tobacco in one clean-shaven cheek, and his hands, which were covered with rings of no great apparent value, were very dirty, and the nails uncared for.  He bowed with a great flourish of politeness, spat copiously in the fire, and bade the count good-day in a thin and shrill-pitched voice, so out of keeping with his monstrous size that I had to cough and turn away to disguise a laugh.

“My respects, count,” said Mr. Quorn, “my respects and compliments.  I presoom, sir, you have heard the noos from the European Continent.”

“I am in pretty constant receipt of news,” the count responded, with a swift glance in my direction; “but I do not know that it is yet common property.”

“Wal,” said Mr. Quorn, “I’m inclined to think it is.  But my folks are pretty considerably damn smart, and so, I guess, are yours.”  He paused, looked hard at me, and turned his quid reflectively.  “This gentleman ?” he said, interrogatively.

“This gentleman,” the count responded, “is in full possession of my confidence.  This is Mr. Quorn, Captain Fyffe.  I was telling Captain Fyffe at the moment of your arrival,” he continued, “the nature of our business.  I shall rely upon his judgment of the goods you have for sale.”

“That’s all right,” said Mr. Quorn.  “I’ve got the real thing to sell, and I want a man as knows the real thing to see it before it’s bought.  Then you’re satisfied and I’m satisfied.  If I ain’t mistaken now, Captain Fyffe’s the man that hooked you out of that blasted Austrian dungeon.”

“It is to Captain Fyffe,” the count answered, “that I owe my liberty.”

“Then you owe him a lot,” retorted Mr. Quorn.  “There’s nothing sweeter on the face of the earth, and I presoom, sir, that you know it.  I am a foe to slavery, gentlemen, everywhere and always.  In the sacred cause of freedom I have been tarred and feathered and rode upon a rail.  In comparison with twenty years in Austrian hands that ain’t a lot, but it was more than I bargained for, and as much as I wanted.  In the sacred cause of freedom, gentlemen, I’m willing to sacrifice even a pecuniary consideration.  I could do a trade with Austria that would increase my profits by fifty per cent.  But I’m all for freedom, and you get first offer.”

“What is your news from the Continent, Mr. Quorn?” inquired the count.

Mr. Quorn looked about him for a convenient spot, selected the fireplace, spat again, wiped his mouth with the back of his hand, and winked with a slow deliberation.

“What’s yourn?” he asked.  The count smiled and shook his head.  “Wal,” said Mr. Quorn, “I’ll tell you what I’ll do with you.  I’ll letter it with you.  L.”

“O,” said the count, still smiling.

“U,” said Mr. Quorn.

“I,” said the count.

“It appears to me,” said Mr. Quorn, “we’re on the same trail.  The exalted individual we’ve got in mind, count, has done something.  What’s he done now?” He rolled his big head between his fat shoulders as he put the question, and chewed away at the great plug of tobacco in his cheek as if he were paid to do it, and as if he were paid by piecework.

“Yes,” said the count, “he has done something, but that is a little vague.”

“Wal, yes,” Mr. Quorn allowed, seating himself and setting both elbows on the table, “I allow it’s vague, but it won’t be vague to-morrow morning.”

“You allude,” said the count, “to the rumor that Louis Philippe has-”

“Yes, sir,” retorted Mr. Quorn, with a very bright twinkle of both eyes, “that is the rumor I allood to.  That ain’t vague, captain, is it?  We both know all about it,” he went on, “and I reckon it ought to grease this contract just a little and make it run smooth.  Your time’s here, if ever it will be, and I propose we strike a bargain.”

“When can you supply the goods?” asked the count.

“Where?” asked Mr. Quorn, as if he were chopping something with a hatchet.

“Ah,” said the count, “that has to be considered.”

“Yes,” the visitor assented, “that has to be considered.  I’m for having everything above-board.  It ain’t easy to handle the contrabands of war at a time like this, when every heraldic bird and beast in Europe is on his hind-legs and looking nine ways for Sundays.  If Captain Fyffe likes to come down with me to Blackwall I can show him something.  On my side I’m all ready, and when I know where the goods are to be landed I’ll undertake to fulfil my part of the contract.  I’ll leave you to yours.  Money down on delivery is the only terms.  I want to know the money’s there, and you want to know the goods are there.  The name of the Count Ro-Say-No would be a sufficient guarantee for anybody in the world but a cuss like me.  I’m business.  In matters of business, gentlemen, delicacy and consideration for high-flown feelings don’t enter into my composition, not for a cent’s worth.  If I was trading with Queen Victoria I should want to know where the money was coming from.  Forty thousand sterling is a lot of money, and I expect you, as a man of the world, to excuse my curiosity.”

The count rose from his seat and rang the bell by the fireplace.  A servant answered it, and he said, simply: 

“Ask Miss Rossano to be kind enough to see me here.”

The servant retired, and Mr. Quorn filled in the time of waiting by walking about the room with his hands under his coat-tails, making a cursory inspection of the furniture and the engravings on the walls, and walking from time to time to the fireplace to expectorate.  When Violet entered, the count placed a seat for her, but she remained standing, with an interrogative look from Mr. Quorn to me which seemed to ask an explanation of that gentleman’s presence.

“My dear,” said the count, “we have often spoken together of the necessity for the purchase of arms for The Cause.”

“Yes,” she said.

“This gentleman,” the count indicated our visitor, “has arms to sell.  We have had news this morning which makes it necessary that we should move at once.”

Her face turned pale for a moment and her lips trembled, but she spoke an affirmatory word only, and waited.

“Mr. Quorn,” said the count, “has fifty thousand stand of arms to dispose of.”

“I suppose this is all right,” interrupted Mr. Quorn, “but I may be allowed to say that I have been in a business of this sort more than once in my time, and I never knew any good come out of the introduction of a petticoat.”

Violet looked at him, and I saw her lips twitch with an impulse towards laughter; but Mr. Quorn obviously misunderstood the emotions he had inspired.

“Do not suppose from that, madame,” he said, with great solemnity, “that I have not the reverence for your sex which rules every well-regulated masculine boozom, but this, if it means anything at all, means secrecy, and that is not your sex’s strong point.”

“That is a matter, Mr. Quorn,” returned the count, “with which, as I think, you need not concern yourself.”

“That’s all right,” returned Mr. Quorn.  “I merely mentioned it.  It’s no affair of mine.”

“Mr. Quorn,” said the count, “has fifty thousand stand of arms to sell.  With them he has three million percussion-caps and three million cartridges.  His price for the whole is-” he paused there and waited, looking towards the visitor.

“Forty thousand pounds sterling,” said Mr. Quorn.

I interrupted the conversation at this point, asking when the cartridges in question had been made.  That was more than Mr. Quorn could say; but I insisted upon an examination of their quality before any bargain with respect to their purchase could be begun.  No sportsman shoots with last year’s cartridges, and a man whose life depends upon his ammunition should be at least as careful as a sportsman.

“Now,” said Mr. Quorn, “I like this-this is business.  This comes of talking to an expert.”

But all the same I could see that he was not over-pleased by my interference at this point.

“We will leave that to your judgment, my dear Fyffe,” said the count.  “But in the meantime Mr. Quorn desires to be satisfied of our ability to purchase.  You have consulted your lawyer, dear, and you know at what time you will have control of your money-”

“On the twelfth of next month,” said Violet.  “I have a letter to that effect.  If this gentleman desires to see it I shall have great pleasure in showing it to him.”

“Thank you, miss,” said Mr. Quorn.  “I should feel satisfied if I could see the document.”

Violet left the room with a furtive smile on her lips, and in a minute or so returned with the letter, which she handed to Mr. Quorn.  He drew from his coat-pocket a spectacle-case, and took from it a pair of gold-rimmed spectacles.  He breathed on these, and polished them with his handkerchief, and then read the letter.

“Richardson & Bowdler,” he said, tapping the paper with one bejewelled, dirty finger, “Acre Building, Cheapside.  No objection, I presoom, to my calling on these gentlemen and ascertaining if this document is genuine?”

“Sir,” said the count, stiffly, “the whole matter is open to your investigation.  You will take any course which seems to you to be justified by your own interests.”

“That’s above-board,” said Mr. Quorn, calmly pocketing the letter and returning his glasses to their case.  “I’ll take a run down to these folks at once, and things being satisfactory there, I’ll be at Captain Fyffe’s service any minute.  If you’ve nothing better to do this afternoon, captain, I’ll run you down to Blackwall and show you what is to be seen.”

It was arranged that he should call for me between three and four o’clock, and on that understanding he took his leave, retiring with many flourishes and an assurance, specially addressed to Violet, that he was flush on the cause of freedom anywhere and everywhere, the hull globe over, and dead against them blasted Austrians anyhow.

“You must remember, my child,” said the count, when we three were left alone, “that you are spending a great sum of money in this enterprise, that it may all be wasted, and that even if by your help The Cause should win you can never hope to see one pound of your money back again.”

Violet had seated herself beside him at Mr. Quorn’s departure, and now, when he began to speak, she slid one arm about his neck and nestled closely to him, with her ripe young cheek touching his grizzled and lined old face.

“I have thought of all that, father,” she answered.  “I shouldn’t care much in any case what became of the money, for I shall have plenty left.  But if it were the last penny, you and Italy would be welcome to it.”

“I know that, my dearest,” the count answered; “but all the same I could wish it were my own.  You have not yet heard to-day’s news?”

“No,” she said, drawing a little away from him, in order that she might look into his face.  “What is it?”

“France is up!” he responded.  “Louis Philippe has flown away, and is either on the road here or here already.”

“And that means?” she said.

“’Instant action,” returned the count.  “Action without one hour’s unnecessary delay.”

“Tell me,” she said, “exactly what it means.”

“We have called a meeting for to-night,” said the count, “and until that is held I can tell you nothing final.  But you have a right to know my own design.  We can really do nothing practical until we are armed.  But I shall propose to quit England to-morrow.  I shall leave Captain Fyffe to the negotiations with Quorn, and shall arrange for communications across the frontier, which will enable me to judge of the best place and the wisest hour for an attack.  I shall go alone, because I wish to excite as little notice as possible.”

“You must not go alone,” she said, and made a movement towards him with her hands half extended.  It was just such a movement as you will see a mother make towards a child that has not quite learned to walk and is in danger of falling.  I could see the maternal instinct beaming in her face.  The beautiful girl beside this grizzled and prematurely aged man was motherly all over, and it was a lovely and a touching thing to see.  The count saw her meaning in a second, and drew back from her with a melancholy and affectionate smile, holding out both hands against her.

“I must go alone,” he said.

“No, no!” cried Violet, taking both his outstretched hands in hers, and bending over him with a look of infinite protection.  “My poor dear, have you not suffered enough, and run dangers enough already?  I could not bear to be away from you.”  He was about to speak, but she closed his lips gently with the palm of her hand.  “I have not been your daughter long,” she said, with a little catch in her voice which took me at the throat and made my heart ache with tenderness and pity for her.  “I can give you up, dear, when the time comes, but not an hour before.”

“Should I not be happy, Fyffe?” asked the count, turning to me with tears in his eyes.  “No, no, dearest, you will wait in England.  I shall leave you in safety, for I will take nothing with me-no, not a thought, if I can help it, which would make me a coward for Italy.”

“I can give you up when the time comes,” she repeated, simply, “but not now.  I will not ask you to take me into any danger.  I don’t think,” she went on, striving to make something of a jest of it, and to hide the deeper feeling which controlled her so strongly-“I don’t think that I am fond of danger or that I should like it at all; but there is no real reason why I should not be with you just at first.”

“Aye, yes,” cried the count, “there is every reason.  I do not know where I may have to go.  I do not know how I am to live-to travel-with what associates I must combine.  My dear child, you must know the truth; my love must venture to speak it.  You would be a drag upon every step, and with you I should not dare to face a single peril.  I must go alone; I know the hardship, but that is the task of women.  They wait at home and suffer, while the man goes out to enjoy adventure and excitement.  It was your mother’s fortune, my child, and you inherit it.  She was all English, and yet she endured it for my sake.  You are at least half of Italy, and Italy has need of both of us.  If Italy needs my life, she is welcome to it.  If she had need of yours, I would say not a word to hold you back.  But your place is at home.  Is it not so, Fyffe?”

I was a selfish advocate enough, but he had reason on his side, and I should have been blind indeed not to have seen it.

“It will be wiser-wiser far,” I urged, “to stay at home.  To speak plainly, you could not fail, in any sudden emergency, to hamper your father’s steps.  He would be nervous about you, and anxious for your safety.”

“But there is no need for that,” she cried, with a tender impatience.  “I am not afraid.  If I were a man you should not talk to me so.”

“No,” said the count, rising and folding his arms about her.  “If you were a man, my dearest, you should have your way.”

“Oh,” she said, with a downward gesture of her clinched hands, “I hate these thoughts about women.  Why should we not have courage?  Why shouldn’t we share danger with those we care about?  I am not afraid of danger.  But I could keep you away from it when there was no reason for it.”

“Violet,” said her father, gently, “I am not inclined to be rash; not now.  I have had twenty years of warning, remember.”

“Remember, poor dear!” she cried, with both arms round his neck and her face hidden on his shoulder, “I have never forgotten for a moment since I knew that you were alive.  But don’t let me be so useless.  Let me do something.  Let me be near you.  Don’t leave me behind.”

“You do much already,” said the count, soothing her as he spoke with one loving hand upon her flushed and tear-stained cheek.  “You surrender your father and your plighted husband, and a great slice of your fortune.  Ah, dearest, you do enough!”

“I do nothing,” she declared.  “Oh, I wish I were a man!”

“So do not I,” said the count.  “I should quarrel with any wish the fulfilment of which robbed me of my daughter.”

She moved away from him gently, and dried her eyes.  Her father watched her solicitously, and by-and-by she walked to the window of the room and said, in a tone of commonplace:  “You cannot prevent me from following you.”

“I can forbid it,” he said, in a tone of pain.

“And I can follow all the same,” she answered.  He looked at her with a glance in which I read both surprise and grief, and for a minute he found no answer.  When she moved to look at him he had turned away, and did not see how timid and beseeching her eyes were, for all the rebellion in her words.

“My child,” he said, “I am at a grave disadvantage.  It pleased God to part us, and to deny us even the knowledge of each other’s existence.  I am still a stranger.”

“No, no, no!” she cried.  She turned and ran to him, and it was plain that an appeal couched in such terms was more than she could bear.  “You are my father,” she sobbed, “my dear, dear father!  All the dearer,” she went on, in words made half inarticulate by her tears, and all the more expressive and affecting-“all the dearer because we never knew each other through all those dreadful years!  I love you, dear, and I am not undutiful, and I will do whatever you ask me; but I want to be with you, I want to be with you.  I have had you for such a little time.  I want you-I want you always!”

“You must spare me to Italy,” said her father, kissing her hands and stroking them within his own.

“Italy!  What would Italy be to me if you were not a part of it?” The Southern blood broke out there plain to see, and in her flashing eyes and vivid face and the free gesture with which she spoke she was Italian all over.  “Do you think a girl can love a country or a name as she loves her father?  Do you think she cares about your houses and intrigues, your Piedmonts and Savoys, your Cavours and Metterniches?  I would give everything I have to Italy, but I would give it all to Austria just as soon if you were on her side!”

The count stood as if stricken dumb.  I do not believe that this human natural aspect of the case had ever occurred to him as being within the broadest limits of possibility.  Italy had come to mean everything in the world to him.  The word meant love, revenge, ambition, the very daily bread and water of his heart and soul.  The fate of Italy overrode, in his mind, every personal consideration-not only for himself, but, unconsciously, for every living creature.  It was natural that it should be so.  It would have been strange, perhaps, had it been otherwise.  I could see that his daughter’s outburst sounded in his ears almost like a blasphemy.  He stood wonder-struck and silent.

“If you,” he said at last, with a face as white as a ghost’s, and raising a shaking hand towards her-“if you, my daughter, the living remembrance of my wife-if she herself were back here from her repose in heaven-if all that ever were or could be dear to me stood on the one side, and my country’s freedom on the other, I would lose you all-I would sacrifice you with my own hand for that great cause as willingly as I would sacrifice myself.”

“Of course you would,” she answered, with an amazement almost equal to his own.  “What was the use of proclaiming a truth so self-evident as that?  You are a man and a patriot, and you love your country”-her voice rang and her bosom heaved-“and you have given all the best years of your life in suffering for her; and that is why I love and honor you.  But that is what a man could never understand.  You love your cause, and we women love you for loving it; and love it because you love it, and we would die for it just as soon as you would.  Oh, you heroic, noble, beautiful-goose!” She rushed at him, and kissed him with a passionate impetuosity.  “And you think it’s all Italy.  It isn’t Italy; it’s you!  You’re my father, and you’re a hero, and a-and a-martyr, and the noblest man that ever lived; and I love you, and I’m proud of you, and-Italy!  You’re my Italy, dear!”

I know that I have not even recorded the words she spoke, well as I fancied I remembered them.  But there is no recording the manner, all fire and passion and melting tenderness; and such a sudden sense of fun and affection in the very middle of it all that I was within an ace of crying at it.  The count did cry, without disguise, and so did she, and I did what I could to look as if I were not in the least moved.  But when her outburst was over, and we had all settled down again, there was no further hint of disobedience.  Violet sat down submissively on a little footstool at the count’s side, holding his hand and resting her head against his knee while he detailed his plans, so far as they were ripe, or speculated beyond them, looking into the possibilities of the future.

In a while, according to arrangement, Mr. Quorn returned, and this broke up our conclave.  I knew already the hour and place appointed for that night, and the count and I agreed to meet ther