By Order of the League - Fred M. White - ebook

By Order of the League ebook

Fred M White

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Frederick Merrick White wrote a number of short stories, including By Order of the League. The story of the Order By the Order of the League begins with a cozy room, where there is a cozy atmosphere. Frederic Maxwell was an English art enthusiast, and, no doubt, if he had to earn his living with his brush, it would have caused some shock in the world. However, being born with a traditional silver spoon in his mouth, his flirtation with art never threatened to become serious.

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Contents

CHAPTER I

CHAPTER II

CHAPTER III

CHAPTER IV

CHAPTER V

CHAPTER VI

CHAPTER VII

CHAPTER VIII

CHAPTER IX

CHAPTER X

CHAPTER XI

CHAPTER XII

CHAPTER XIII

CHAPTER XIV

CHAPTER XV

CHAPTER XVII

CHAPTER XVII

CHAPTER XVIII

CHAPTER XIX

CHAPTER XX

CHAPTER I

THE shades of evening had commenced to fall; already the slanting sun shining through the open window glittered on the array of crystal glasses, turning the wine within them to a blood-red hue. The remains of an ample dessert were scattered about the bare polished table, rich luscious-looking fruits and juicy pines filling the air with their fragrance. A pleasant room, with its panelled walls and quaint curiosities, with here and there a modern picture framed; and again other works standing upon easels or placed against the wainscot. From the Corso below came the sounds of laughter and gaiety; while within, the delicate scent of the pines was overpowered by the odour of tobacco which rose from the cigarettes of the three men sitting there. They were all young–artists evidently, and from the appearance of one of them, he was of a different nationality from the others. Frederick Maxwell was an Englishman, with a passion for art, and no doubt had he been forced to gain a living by his brush, would have made some stir in the world; but being born with the traditional silver spoon in his mouth, his flirtation with the arts never threatened to become serious. He was leaving Rome in a few days, and the dessert upon the table was the remains of a farewell dinner–that custom dear to every English heart. A handsome fair-haired man this Englishman, his clear bright cheek and blue eyes contrasting with the aquiline features and olive-hued complexions of his companions. The man with the black moustache and old velvet painting-jacket, a man with bohemian stamped on him indelibly, was Carlo Visci, also an artist, and a genius to boot, but cursed with that indomitable idleness which is the bane of so many men of talent. The other and slighter Italian, he with the melancholy face and earnest eyes, was Luigi Salvarini, independent as to means, and possessed, poor fool, with the idea that he was ordained by Providence for a second Garibaldi

There is an infinite sense of rest and comfort, the desire to sit silent and dream of pleasant things, that comes with tobacco after dinner, when the eye can dwell upon the wax lights glittering on glass and china, and on the artistic confusion the conclusion of the repast produces. So the three men sat listlessly, idly there, each drowsily engaged, and none caring to break the delicious silence, rendered all the more pleasing from the gay girlish laughter and the trip of little feet coming up from the Corso below. But no true Briton can remain long silent; and Maxwell, throwing his cigarette out through the window, rose to his feet, yawning. ‘Heigh-ho! So this pleasant life is come to an end,’ he exclaimed. ‘Well, I suppose one cannot be expected to be always playing.’

Carlo Visci roused himself to laugh gently. ‘Did you ever do anything else, my friend?’ he asked. ‘You play here under sunny skies, in a velvet painting-jacket; then you leave us to pursue the same arduous toil in the tall hat of Albion’s respectability, in the land of fogs and snows. Ah! yes, it is only a change of venue, my philosopher.’

‘Not now,’ Salvarini corrected gravely. ‘Remember, he has vowed by all in his power to aid the welfare of the League. That vow conscientiously followed out is undertaking enough for one man’s lifetime.’

‘Luigi, you are the skeleton at the feast,’ Visci remonstrated. ‘Cannot you be happy here for one brief hour without reminding us that we are bound by chains we cannot sever?’

‘I do not like the mocking tone of your words,’ Salvarini replied. ‘The subject is too earnest for jesting upon.–Surely, Maxwell, you have not so soon forgotten the solemnity of the oath you took last night?’

‘I do remember some gibberish I had to repeat, very much like the conspirators’ chorus at the Opera,’ Maxwell returned with a careless shrug. ‘It is not bad fun playing at sedition.–But for goodness’ sake, Luigi, do not keep harping on the same string, like another Paganini, but without that wizard’s versatility.’

‘You think it play, do you?’ Salvarini asked almost scornfully. ‘You will find it stern reality some day. Your hour may not come yet, it may not come for years; but if you are ordered to cut off your right hand, you will have to obey.’

‘Oh, indeed. Thanks, most earnest youth, for your estimation of my talent for obedience.–Come, Luigi! do not be so Cassandra-like. If the worst comes to the worst, I can pitch this thing into the Tiber.’ He took a gold coin from his pocket as he spoke, making a gesture as if to throw it through the open lattice.

Salvarini stood up, terror written in every line of his face, as he arrested the outstretched arm. ‘For heaven’s sake, Maxwell, what are you thinking of? Are you mad, or drunk, that you can dream of such a thing?’

Maxwell laughed as he restored the coin to his pocket. ‘All right, old fellow. I suppose I must honour your scruples; though, mind you, I do not consider myself bound to do anything foolish even for the League.’

‘You may not think so; indeed, I hope not; but time will tell.’

Maxwell laughed again, and whistled carelessly, thinking no more of the little episode. The League, the coin, everything was forgotten; but the time did come when he in his hour of need remembered Luigi’s words, and vividly realised the meaning of the look on his stern earnest face.

Visci looked on at the incident, totally unmoved, save by a desire to lead the conversation into more pleasant channels. ‘When do you leave, Maxwell?’ he asked. ‘I suppose you are not going for a few days?’

‘In about a week probably, not sooner. I did not know I had so many friends in Rome, till I was going to leave them.’

‘You will not forget your visit to my little place? Genevieve will never forgive me if I let you go without saying good-bye.’

‘Forget little Genevieve!’ Maxwell cried. ‘No, indeed. Whatever my engagements may be, I shall find time to see her; though, I daresay, the day will come when she will forget me easily enough.’

‘I am not so sure of that; she is a warm-hearted child. I tell you what we will do; and perhaps Sir Geoffrey and his daughter will join us. We will go down the day alter to-morrow, and make a day of it–Of course you will be one, Luigi?’

It was growing dark now, too dark to see the rich flush that mounted to the young Italian’s cheek. He hesitated a moment before he spoke. ‘With pleasure, Carlo. A day at your little paradise is not to be lightly refused. I will come gladly.’

‘You make a slight mistake, Visci, when you speak of Genevieve as a child,’ Maxwell observed reflectively. ‘She is seventeen–a woman, according to your Italian reckoning. At any rate, she is old enough to know the little blind god, or I am much mistaken.’

‘I hope not,’ Visci returned gravely. ‘She is quick and passionate, and somewhat old for her years, by reason of the seclusion she keeps. But let the man beware who lightly wins her heart; it would go hard with him if I crossed his path again!’

‘There are serpents in every paradise,’ Maxwell replied sententiously; ‘and let us hope little Gen is free from the curiosity of her original ancestress. But child or not, she has a woman’s heart worth the winning, in which assertion our silent friend here will bear me out.’

Luigi Salvarini started from his reverie. ‘You are right, Maxwell,’ he said. ‘Many a man would be proud to wear her gage upon his arm. Even I–But why ask me? If I was even so disposed to rest under my own fig-tree, there are ties which preclude such a blissful thought’

Maxwell whistled softly, and muttered something about a man drawing a bow at a venture–the words audible to Salvarini alone.

‘I am tied, as I told you,’ he continued coldly. ‘I do not know why you have drawn me into the discussion at all. I have sterner work before me than dallying by a woman’s side looking into her eyes–’

‘And not anything like so pleasant, I dare swear,’ Maxwell interrupted cheerfully. ‘Come, Luigi; do not be so moody. If I have said anything in my foolish way to offend you, I am heartily sorry.’

‘I am to blame, Maxwell, not you. You wonder why I am so taken up with this League; if you will listen, I will tell you. The story is old now; but I will tell you as best I can remember.’

‘Then, perhaps you will wait till I have found a seat and lighted my cigarette,’ exclaimed a voice from the background at this moment. ‘If Salvarini is going to oblige, I cut in as a listener.’

At these words, uttered in a thin, slightly sneering voice, the trio turned round suddenly. Had it been lighter, they would have seen a trim, well-built figure, with head well set on square shoulders, and a perfectly cut, deadly pale face, lighted with piercing black eyes, and adorned by a well-waxed, pointed moustache. From his accents, there must have been something like a sneer upon his lips. But whatever he might have been, he seemed to be welcome enough now as he drew a chair to the open window.

‘Better late than never,’ Maxwell cried. ‘Help yourself to wine, Le Gautier; and make all due apologies for not turning up to dinner.’

‘I will do so,’ the newcomer said languidly. ‘I was detained out of town.–No; you need not ask if a pair of bright eyes were the lodestars to my ardent soul, for I shall not tell you; and in the second place, I have been obtaining your permit as a Brother of the League. I offered up myself on the shrine of friendship; I lost my dinner, voilà tout;’ and saying these words, he put a narrow slip of parchment in Maxwell’s hands.

‘I suppose I had better take care of this?’ the Englishman answered carelessly. ‘I got so exasperated with Salvarini, that I came near ditching the sacred moidore out of the window. I presume it would not be wise?’

‘Not if you have any respect for a sound body,’ Le Gautier returned dryly. ‘I gather that Luigi has been talking largely about the sacredness of the mission. Well, he is young yet, and the gilt of his enthusiasm does not yet show the nickel beneath, which reminds me. Did my ears deceive me, or were we going to hear a story?’

‘It is no story,’ the Italian replied, ‘merely a little family record, to show you how even patriots are not exempt from tyranny.–You remember my brother, Visci? and his wife. He settled down, after fighting years for his country, not many miles from here. Living with him was his wife’s father, an aged man, universally beloved–a being who had not a single enemy in the world. Well, time went on, till one day, without the slightest warning, the old fellow was arrested for compliance in some so-called plot. My brother’s wife clung round her father’s neck; and there, in my brother’s sight, he saw his wife stricken brutally down by the ruffianly soldiers–dead; dead, mind–her only crime that little act of affection–killed by order of the officer in charge. But revenge followed. Paulo shot three of the scoundrels dead, and left the officer, as he thought, dying. Since then, I have never heard of Paulo.–And now, do you wonder why I am a Socialist, with my hand against all authority and order, when it is backed up by such cowardly, unprovoked oppression as this?’

For a time the listeners remained silent, watching the twinkling stars as they peeped out one by one, nothing to be seen now of each but the glowing tip of his cigarette as the blue smoke drifted from the casement.

‘You do not think that your brother and Paulo Lucci, the celebrated brigand we hear so much of, are the same men?’ Visci asked at length. ‘People have said so, you understand.’

‘I have heard such a tale,’ Salvarini replied sardonically. ‘The affair created quite a stir in the province at the time; but the peasants do me too much homage in connecting my name with so famous a character. Our Italian imagination does not rest at trifles.’

‘Pleasant for the officer who ordered them to strike down your brother’s wife,’ Le Gautier drawled, as he emitted a delicate curl of smoke from his nostrils. ‘Did you ever hear the name of the fellow?’

‘Curiously enough, his name is the same as yours, though I cannot be sure, as it is five years ago now. He was a Frenchman, likewise.’

‘Moral–let all Le Gautiers keep out of Paulo Lucci’s way,’ Maxwell exclaimed, rising to his feet ‘We do not pay you the compliment of believing you are the same man; but these brigands are apt to strike first and inquire after. Of course, this is always presuming Salvarini’s brother and Paulo Lucci are one.–I am going as far as the Villa Salvarini. Who says ay to that proposal?–The ayes have it’

They rose to their feet with one accord, and after changing their coats for something more respectable, trooped down the stairs.

‘You will not forget about Friday?’ Visci reminded. ‘I shall ask Sir Geoffrey and his daughter to come. We are going down to my little place on that day.–Will you make one, Le Gautier?’

‘A thousand thanks, my dear Visci,’ the Frenchman exclaimed; ‘but much as I should like it, the thing is impossible. I am literally overwhelmed in the most important work.’

A general laugh followed this solemn assertion.

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