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We met in a room in Soho, over an Italian restaurateur’s.  The place was dimly lit with lamps and a brace of tall candles, and down the centre of the room ran a long, unclothed table, with chairs ranged at either side of it.  The men who formed our council were of every social grade, and in the crowd which hung about the room at the moment of my entrance there were two or three who would have passed social muster anywhere, and two or three who were shaggy, unkempt, and ragged enough to have been taken for beggars.  One or two wore the short round jacket which is the trade-mark of the Italian waiter, and one, a diamond merchant from Hatton Garden, carried so much of his own stock in trade in open evidence about him that he would have been a fortune to a dozen of the poorer brethren.  But whether they were prince or peasant, lean tutor, fat padrone, coarse stockbroker, or polished noble, they were all at one in patriotism, and there was not a man there who had not proved himself up to the hilt, and who was not given, body and soul, to The Cause.

In the darkest corner of the room stood an old grand pianoforte, the top propped open, and the keyboard exposed as if it had been but recently employed.  A chair with a ragged cushion on top of it was pushed a little back, and a sheet of music drooped from the stand towards the keys.  My entrance had excited no regard, and I took my place in this dim corner to look about me.  The count had not yet arrived, and, indeed, I was some five minutes before the appointed hour; but as I stood watching, Brunow came in and shook hands with at least a score of the men assembled.  The light was anything but clear, and I could not be quite certain of his aspect; but to me he wore a troubled and harassed look, and I thought I had never seen him so pale and wan.  He talked loudly and excitedly; and little as I understood the language with which he was so familiar, I made out enough to tell me that he was exulting in the news that day had brought us, and was prophesying success for the Italian cause.  For people who did not know him, he had an extraordinary power of exciting enthusiasm, and before he had been three minutes in the place everybody was listening to him; and once or twice as he spoke there was a murmur of applause, now and then a laugh, and once a burst of cheering.  Just as this broke out he caught sight of me standing in the dimness of the corner by the old piano, and peered at me as if uncertain of my identity.  When he recognized me he turned away and spoke no more, and I thought it was anger at me which flushed his face at first and then made it paler than ever.  I was sorry for Brunow, and, little as I valued him, I was grieved that he should nurse his groundless grudge against me; but there was nothing to be done at present.

Almost as the cheers which had greeted Brunow’s last sentence died away the count came in.  He walked straight to the head of the table, and took his seat there.  There was more cheering, and then the men assembled took their places anyhow, with no distinction of persons.  The count’s official statement of the news was received with a murmur in which a note of stern interest was audible.  I had been assured, from my first knowledge of them, that the men of this particular conclave meant business.  It had been the main affair of my life to judge of the intentions of societies similar to this, and I have no reason to believe that my experiences had been altogether wasted.  Their purpose was evident enough now, and in the flush of anticipated victory which brightened every mind with the thought that the one ally of the oppressor was down, I read the reflection of my own certainty.  “You are my Italy,” said Violet to her father, and in my own mind I repeated her words as if they had been the end of an old song, and added, “You are mine.”

It was not long before I found myself summoned to an active part in the deliberations of the night.  I heard my own name from the count’s lips, and, looking up, saw his hand beckoning to me.

“My dear and valued friend,” said the count, as I stood by him, “knows nothing of Italian.  All of us speak or understand his language more or less, for our exile in England has taught us at least the tongue of freedom.  To-day Captain Fyffe has accepted a mission in our behalf.  We have had an offer of fifty thousand rifles.  A wealthy Italian lady, who commands me to conceal her name at this moment, has provided the money for their purchase.”  There was a tremendous cheer at this, and every man there sprang to his feet.  “Captain Fyffe,” the count resumed, when quiet was restored, “has charged himself with the negotiations.  He is an experienced soldier, and has undertaken to see that we are not buying anything that is not likely to be of solid worth to us.  I will ask you now to listen to Captain Fyffe’s report.”

I never pretended to be anything of an orator, but I could make a plain statement of that sort, though I was a little embarrassed by the feeling that a good many of my listeners could not understand me.  I reported that I had overhauled a number of cases of the arms it was proposed to purchase, and that I was reasonably satisfied of their efficiency.  The rifle was of the latest make, and though we have made great strides in gunnery since then, we have made no such stride as was made at that time.  I was able to say that the weapons were more effective than anything with which our enemies were armed, and to announce that we were in a position to effect an astonishing bargain.

“More than that,” I said, in conclusion, “I am not disposed to say even here.  The arms are contraband of war, and if it were known that they were in England it would be the duty of the authorities to seize them.  That fact makes silence safest.”

Those who understood, or who thought they understood, translated this brief statement of mine to those who did not, and this made a deep hum all about the table.  In the midst of it a man entered at the door, and, advancing to the count, began to talk to him animatedly in some local dialect, of which I could not understand so much as a syllable.  The count nodded twice or thrice to signify attention, and though at first he looked doubtful, he ended by smiling, and dismissed the messenger with an applauding pat upon the shoulder.  He rose to his feet before the man had reached the door, and made a brief statement, which was received with a mingling of dissent and applause.  Ruffiano leaped to his feet, crying out in English: 

“Brothers, I claim a word!” and there was instant silence, every face turning attentively to his.  He began to speak rapidly, with all his usual vehemence, and with even more than his usual plenitude of gesture.  Almost at the beginning of his argument he bent his lean figure forward and beat rapidly upon the table with the palm of his hand, and then, suddenly recovering his full height, sent both arms backward.  Brunow sat immediately on his right, and the back of the orator’s hand caught him resoundingly upon the cheek; and at this unexpected incident the audience broke into a sudden shout of laughter, in which Brunow tried to join-with a curiously ill success, I thought.  I could not understand the subject of discussion, for Ruffiano had immediately gone back to his native language, and there was something about Brunow’s look which could hardly be accounted for by so trifling a misadventure as that which had just occurred.  The instinct of the eye told him that I was looking at him, and he glanced at me and then suddenly averted his face.  He made an effort to appear at ease, but his color came and went strangely, and both his hands trembled, though I saw that he was pressing them heavily upon the table with the intent to steady them.  I thought he might possibly have been raging inwardly at me, and that in his unreasoning anger at me he might find my mere presence hateful to him; but I could not help thinking that his looks expressed fear or suspense rather than anger.  When the laughter excited by the accident had died away, Ruffiano turned to him with a voice and gesture of apology; and having once laid his hand on Brunow’s shoulder, continued to address him as if the argument he was offering, whatever it might be, concerned Brunow more intimately than any one else there present.  He seemed, so far as I could judge, to carry the suffrages of the meeting with him, but I had quite resigned any feeble attempt I had made to follow the thread of his discourse, when I caught distinctly the words, “Beware of the women!  I say it again and again and again:  beware of the women!  It is my last word, beware of the women!” Every word of this I understood quite clearly; and while I was wondering why the advice was given, Ruffiano dropped back with a grotesque suddenness into his seat, and shouted the words of warning a fourth time, striking both hands, palms downward, on the table.

Brunow followed him, and beginning somewhat shakily at first, recovered confidence as he went on, and, warming to his work, delivered a speech which sounded eloquent and persuasive.  It pleased his audience, beyond a doubt, for almost every sentence was punctuated with murmurs of approval; and when he sat down there was warm applause, in which almost everybody but Ruffiano joined, but he remained unconvinced and dissatisfied; it was evident from the way in which he rolled his gaunt figure in his chair, and his frequent cries of “No, no! wrong, wrong! absolutely wrong!” The count persuaded him to silence, and then spoke again to the man who had charge of the door.  He bowed and disappeared, and there was a moment or two of waiting, during which everybody looked eagerly towards the entrance.  I seized the opportunity to whisper an inquiry to the count.

“A deputation of Italian and Hungarian legates,” he responded.  “They desire to congratulate us on the news of to-day, and to express their sympathy for The Cause.”

“That can do but little harm,” I answered.  “But I agree with Ruffiano all the same:  the less they know of our actual intentions the better.”

The count nodded smilingly.  “You are quite right; ours is not work for women.”

As he spoke the door-keeper reappeared, bowing, and the whole assembly rose to its feet.  Half a dozen ladies entered, and some eight or ten of our own number, among whom the count and Brunow were most conspicuous, moved to welcome them.  After a little bustle of compliments and arrangement, chairs were found for the visitors at the far end of the room, and the meeting fell back into its former aspect.  One of our unlooked-for visitors sat on the chair near the old grand piano, and I could see her white hand, ungloved and with a jewelled bracelet sparkling at the wrist, resting on the key-board.  That corner of the long and narrow chamber was so dim, and the intervening lamps and candles sent up such a glare between, that I was not quite certain of her identity; but I felt a shock of surprise in the mere fancy that this was the Baroness Bonnar.  I made a movement to one side, and, shading my eyes from the light, made her out with certainty.  It was the Baroness Bonnar, and no other.  She had often spoken in my hearing of her Hungarian birth, and of her hatred of the Austrians; but I had never been inclined to regard this as being more than a bit of private theatricals, and I was astonished to find her withdrawing herself from the butterfly, fashionable career she seemed to follow, and taking so much interest in sterner matters as her presence there seemed to indicate.

There was a little ceremonial, in the course of which the count proffered a formal welcome to the deputation; and one of the ladies, who was richly attired and wore an air of much distinction, spoke for three or four minutes in a balanced, musical voice.  The count whispered me her title-I have forgotten it ages ago, though she was a great personage in her time-and told me that she had lost her husband and her three sons in the struggle for independence.  This made her interesting and venerable, and I watched her closely as I listened to the balanced accents of her mournful and musical voice.  While this lady spoke her figure hid that of the baroness, but I could still see the white hand resting on the key-board, and the jewelled bracelet glittering in some stray ray of light.  By-and-by the hand began to hover over the keys as if it were playing a phantom air, and a moment later I saw its fellow hovering in company with it.  Just as the speaker sat down I heard the sound of a chord, but this went unnoticed in the burst of cheering which arose.

I could see the baroness now.  She was sitting with both hands on the keys, and as the cheering died away they rose and fell again with a loud and brilliant crash.  Everybody turned and stared in a dead silence, and she began to sing.  I had heard that song from Violet’s lips, and a day or two later she made me a translation of it, of which I have long since forgotten everything but the first verse.  It was a song of revolution, almost as popular in Italy and quite as sternly prohibited as was the Marseillaise in France.  Here is the one verse that I remember: 

“Oh, is it sleep or death
In which Italia lies? 
Betwixt her pallid lips is any breath? 
Is any light of life within her eyes? 
Oh, is it sleep or death?”

It went on to picture Italy prostrate under the armed heel of Austria, and in its concluding verse the trance was broken, the trampled figure had risen to its feet, had wrested the sword from the oppressor’s hand, had hurled him to the earth, and stood triumphant over his lifeless body.  I have heard finer voices by the dozen, but I have not often heard a finer style or one more magnetic and enthralling.  The little woman sang as if the song possessed her, and it is not often that a singer finds such an audience.  When the first amazement was over I looked about me and saw that everybody had risen and turned towards the singer as if by a common impulse.  The song was recognized at the first bar, and it was listened to with an enthusiasm which had something very like worship in it.  Before the first verse was over I saw tears glittering in many eyes, and when leaving the mournful strain with which she opened, the singer passed on to the swing and passion of the second and third verses, many of the listeners were so carried away that they wept outright; somebody struck in on the final line with a ringing tenor, and then the whole crowd joined in.  The third verse was sung over and over again, in a scene of enthusiasm almost as wild as that of the count’s welcome at the railway station, or the later and still more memorial meeting of that same evening.  The hot Italian blood was fairly fired, and it took a long time to cool again.  Brunow, who only a few minutes before had seemed so unlike his usual self, surrendered himself to the excitement of the moment with a zest, and seemed as madly enthusiastic as any one of them.  He sang with both hands in the air, beating time extravagantly; and when at last the hubbub was over, he pressed his way to the baroness, who stood smiling at the pianoforte and drawing on her-gloves.  He took both her hands in his, and said something to her at which she laughed as if well pleased.  He made a way for her through the crowd gathered about the piano, and escorted her to the door.  As they passed me I heard her say to him:  “I told you how it would be,” and I had reason to remember the words afterwards.

This unlooked-for episode being over, and the deputation of ladies having been dismissed with roaring “vivas,” we went back to business.  I noticed that Brunow’s earlier awkwardness of manner had given way to a mood and aspect of great elation.  But of course I was without the key to the understanding of the situation, and his change of temper had no significance for me.  I can understand it now, however, and I know that he had frightened himself unnecessarily over the baroness’s little experiment.  It was he who had taken upon himself the onus of introducing the ladies’ deputation, and the baroness’s object is, of course, clear enough.  All she wanted was to make herself favorably known to the general leaders of the party as a well-wisher to The Cause.  Whether Brunow knew, then, anything of her full purpose I am unable to say with certainty, but I am inclined to think he did, and I have two or three proofs which have grown more cogent with time that he already knew the theme of Austrian money, and had embarked on that wicked and degrading career which led him to so swift and just a punishment.

Of course little real business was done in those big gatherings of party of which this night’s assembly was one.  All the men were true and tried, as I have already said, but their numbers alone would have made them unwieldy as an active body, and the real work was performed by a sort of informal committee, of which I had now for some time been a member.  Almost from the first hour of his arrival in England the count had taken his place among his party as the natural and recognized leader.  I never knew a man who made less pretence of being dominant, but I never knew a man either who had in so marked degree that unconscious inner force of character which gives a man control over his fellows.  At any moment of importance it was his habit to single out among us the men of whose counsel he had need, and only those thus singled out ever ventured to stay behind when the public business was finished and the more intimate discussions of the inner conclave were about to be held.  This night, a little to my surprise, he beckoned Brunow, who, as I fancied, had been waiting in hope and expectation of the summons.  His face, which had grown once more a little haggard and anxious, brightened when he received it, and the count held him in private conversation for a moment, with one hand on his shoulder.  He spoke in a subdued tone, the murmur of which alone reached me; but when he had finished what he had to say, Bru-now answered with a loud alacrity:  “Willingly, my dear count, most willingly.”  At this the count beckoned me, and as I approached Brunow held out his hand.

“I hope you’ll take that, Fyffe,” he said.  “I beg your pardon, with all my heart.  I wasn’t myself when I spoke, but I know that what I said was the merest nonsense.”

I took his proffered hand at once, without a shadow of suspicion or reserve.  There had never been very much in common between us, but we were life-long acquaintances, and, after a fashion, we had been friends.  I was glad to patch up the quarrel, and willing to say and think no more about it.

The council we held was a brief one, for the count had already made up his mind to his own satisfaction; and when he had advised us of that, the business was practically over.

“I arranged with Mr. Quorn,” he said, “more than a week ago, that if it were finally decided to purchase the arms he had for sale I would travel with him to Italy on board of his own ship, and would myself undertake the responsibility of effecting a landing.  I have arranged also that trustworthy information shall be conveyed to us from the shore, I am not anxious to fall into Austrian hands again, and I shall take all precaution to avoid surprise.”

“On what part of the coast do you intend to effect a landing, sir?” Brunow inquired.

“That will depend,” the count answered, “on circumstances of which I am at present ignorant.  I must wait and see.  I shall probably start to-morrow.  Mr. Quorn quite naturally and properly declines to part with the goods until he is paid for them.  The money cannot be drawn until the 12th of August, but it will then be despatched to me by a safe hand, and I shall have ample time to signify the place to which it must be carried.  Quorn,” he added, “is assured of our bona fides, and will be ready to start at any hour I may indicate.”

One or two of our number, I remember, endeavored to dissuade him from his plan, on the ground that we had need of his leadership in England, and that there were many things to be done there which could not be intrusted to hands of less authority.  Ruffiano combated this opinion.

“We shall all be wanted in Italy,” he argued, “and Count Rossano will be more needed there than any of us.  The mere knowledge that he is again on Italian soil, and that he is amply provided with arms, will bring the people about him anywhere.”

The discussion did not last long, and it was so plainly to be seen from the beginning that the count was bent upon carrying out his own plan, and Brunow, Ruffiano, and I were so strongly of opinion that he had chosen the most useful course, that opposition vanished very early.  The count delegated his authority as president of the council to Ruffiano, who, in spite of his outside singularities, was a man of much force of character, and, next to the count himself, commanded most completely the respect of the party.

Ruffiano, the count, and I walked to Lady Rollin-son’s house together, and Brunow came half-way.  As we walked together behind the two elders, who were deep in conversation, we found little to say to each other; but at last Brunow put his arm through mine in quite the old friendly fashion, and brought me almost to a standstill.

“I mustn’t go any farther, old fellow,” he said.  “I shall get used to things by-and-by, I dare say, but it was a little bit of a facer at first, and I haven’t quite got over it yet.  Look here, Fyffe, we’ve always been friends, don’t let what’s happened make any difference between us.”

I don’t think I ever felt so well disposed to him as I did at that minute.  I was victor, for one thing, and it was easy to make allowance for the man who had lost; and, apart from that, his withdrawal had been so generous and candid that I should have been a brute not to have accepted it instantly.  I shook hands with him with a warmer cordiality than I had ever experienced towards him, and with a higher opinion of his manhood.  It was the last time I ever took him by the hand, poor Brunow! and though it is a hundred chances to one in my mind now that he was at that very moment plotting to betray me, I can’t somehow find it in my heart to feel so bitter against him as I should have felt against a stronger man.  He never seemed to me to be altogether responsible, like other people, and the payment of his treachery was so swift and dreadful that the memory of it breeds a sort of half-forgiveness in my mind.

There were scores of hard business details to be thought of and talked about, and we three conspirators sat together until the night was late.  When at last Ruffiano left us, the count detained me.

“The world is full of changes,” he said, “and no man knows what may happen.  We may never meet again, Fyffe, and I have a solemn charge to leave you.  If I am caught again they will make short work of me.  I do not mean to be caught if I can help it, but I know the risk I run.  If anything should happen to me, I counsel you, for Violet’s sake, to retire from The Cause.  She cannot spare us both, and Italy has no claim on you.”

I suppose the surprise I felt at receiving such advice from such a quarter showed itself in my face, for he went on with a smile: 

“I see you wonder at me, but I have had time to think since Violet spoke out her mind this afternoon.  A man may have a cause and may set it above everything in the world, but a woman sees an individual-her father-her lover-her brother-her husband-a baby-any solitary human trifle-and to her the one individual is more valuable than any ideal.  You will do as I wish, Fyffe?”

“No!” I answered.  “I am pledged, and I will carry out my promise.  I should despise myself and Violet would despise me if I went back from it.”

“Well, well,” he answered, and I could not tell from his manner whether he was pleased or displeased at my reply, “we are all in God’s hands.  Good-night, and good-bye.  We shall not meet again for a little while, in any case.”