HAND IN HAND

‘Dear Mr Petrovitch,–We were married this morning at St Nicholas
Cole Abbey, and we are leaving London by the night mail. I cannot go
without thanking you with my whole heart for all you have done for
me–for both of us. No words can ever tell you how much I feel what
we owe to you. My husband says he owes more to you than I do, but I
cannot think that. Good-bye until we see you in Russia. Oh! Heaven
bless you, Mr Petrovitch, for all you have done for us.–Yours always
gratefully,

ALICE LITVINOFF.’

In the same envelope was a letter from Alice’s husband, and it did not
begin in the same way as hers. It ran thus,–

‘MY DEAR LITVINOFF,–I can’t write to you under any but your own name,
nor can I sign any other than my own. I kept yours as you wished,
and Alice believes herself to be Countess Litvinoff. I shall tell
her all _that_ part of my story later, but I shall never tell her of
my villainous and insensate desire for a rich wife, and for a life
of ease which would have driven me mad in three months. Alice and a
life of adventure are worth all the broad acres in creation. Nor
shall I tell her that I knew her father. One thing more I must ask
you to do for me. Write to Richard Ferrier and let him know that we
are married. I think I’ve used him rather badly. Alice wishes you
to say good-bye for her to her good friends Mr and Mrs Toomey. Some
kind fate certainly kept watch over my wife while I was playing the
fool and dangling after another woman. And Fate has been a thousand
times better to me than I deserve. With my dear wife, and the
prospect of meeting you soon in Russia, I feel all the old enthusiasm
re-awakening. _Vive la Révolution!_–Your old secretary and friend,

ARMAND PERCIVAL.

‘In signing that name I feel as though I were writing with my left
hand, it is so awkward to me after all these years.’

Petrovitch sighed as he replaced the letters in their envelope. He had
given himself up wholly to the cause he served, and he had suffered for
it, and was prepared to suffer more, and generally he was contented,
even glad, that it should be so. But sometimes a sudden sense of the
utter loneliness of his life came over him, saddening and oppressing
him. Then he seemed to himself to be not a man with a life of his own
to live and hopes of his own to cherish, but a power passing through
the lives of others, helping, guiding, saving, and always after a while
fading out of those lives. He had brought these two together, and they
were all in all to each other, and he was much to them perhaps, but
mainly because he _had_ brought them together. Now he felt that they
were lost to him, and he had loved them both–Alice with the love
of a strong man for a child, and the other with a deep attachment
which dated from the first moment of their meeting, and which had
unaccountably withstood all the other’s shortcomings. Unaccountably?
No? the essence of love is its boundless capacity for pardon; the
unaccountable part of it was that he should ever have loved him at
all. And they were gone; and gone, as Petrovitch knew well enough, to
begin a life whose end, sooner or later, must be the scaffold or the
death-in-life of perpetual imprisonment. He had led many a man and
many a woman into that path, knowing all that it meant, and he was not
sorry. Was it not the path he had himself chosen as being the noblest
that any man’s feet could tread–the path of utter self-renunciation?
But though he was never sorry he was often sad, and sadder than usual
on the day when his two friends bade farewell to safety and English
soil. He felt lonely and desolate. But Michael Petrovitch never felt
his own moral pulse for more than half a minute at a time. He sighed,
raised his hand to his chin, and smiled at finding himself reminded
that the gesture of passing his hand over his beard, which had grown
into a settled habit with him in moments of annoyance or excitement,
was no longer possible.

He turned to his table and wrote half-a-dozen letters. There were many
arrangements still to make for his journey. Then he rose, put on his
hat, and started for Marlborough Villa.

He had not cared to face that dinner where he was to have met his
fellow revolutionist. He had written a hasty note of excuse, and had
spent the evening and the best part of the night in conference with his
morose friend Hirsch, who was a little more morose even than usual on
this occasion, owing to what he thought the absurd and unjust leniency
with which the pseudo Litvinoff had been treated. He would have been
much better satisfied had some sudden and awful judgment overtaken the
adventurer who had dared to personate his hero–even had that judgment
come in the form of a trial for forgery at the Old Bailey; which fact
showed that he was but a weaker brother in the faith that teaches that
crime is a disease to be cured, not an offence to be punished. In
that conversation with Hirsch the date of Petrovitch’s departure had
been finally settled, and now he had a few farewell visits to pay. One
must certainly be to Mrs Quaid–he had a fancy that he would try to
make his parting with Miss Stanley something more than it could be in
the presence of that estimable lady. He thought that Clare would not
hesitate to say good-bye to him without her hostess’s surveillance. At
any rate, a chance of being alone with her to say his farewell was what
he was bent on trying for. At Marlborough Villa he was shown into the
morning-room. It was empty, but in a moment Clare came in.

He was standing with his back to the window. When she saw him she
started visibly, and, with an unmistakable gesture of annoyance, was
turning to leave the room, when he made a step forward, and she paused
and looked at him, and, turning with a complete change of expression,
held out her hand.

‘How could I have been so absurd?’ she said. ‘Do you know for the
moment I really thought it was Count Litvinoff.’

‘I don’t wonder at your not quite recognising me. You see I had to
sacrifice my beard. I am going back to Russia next week. Disguise will
be _de rigeur_, and beards and disguises are incompatible.’

‘Going back to Russia next week?’ she repeated slowly, ‘and I had so
much to say–to ask–‘

‘Do you still need advice?’ he said, smiling.

‘Yes,’ she said, speaking quickly and eagerly, ‘more than ever, for
now I have made up my mind. I am quite certain that my money ought to
go–not to simply alleviating the miseries that wring one’s heart, but
to helping to overthrow the system that causes them. I have felt it a
strong temptation to help first the individual sorrows that I know of;
but I _know_ that the right thing to do is to help not those, but the
revolution that will render them impossible. I am right, am I not?’

‘Yes,’ he answered. They were standing by the window. This was not the
sort of thing that one settles comfortably into chairs to ‘talk over.’

‘But now you are going,’ she said, with a saddened falling cadence in
her voice, that made music for the man at her side, ‘and I shall have
no one to tell me what to do. Why need you go? Is there nothing for you
to do here? Is Russia so dear that it pushes all other claims out of
sight?’

‘It is not that I am a patriot. I love Russia, I love my people, but
I love England and her people too. But better than either do I love
Liberty, and I must be where her enemies are strongest, where the
battle is hottest.’

‘If that is so,’ she said, reflectively, with her eyes downcast,
‘everyone who loves Liberty _best_ should be in front of the battle
too?’

‘I think so; but each must think for himself,’ he was beginning, when
they both turned at the sudden opening of the door. Cora Quaid came in;
her fresh face quite pale; a newspaper in her hands.

‘Oh, how do you do, Mr Petrovitch. I did not know you were here. Clare,
such a terrible thing has happened, dear; mamma has just seen it in
the paper.’ She held out the sheet and pointed to a paragraph headed,
‘Shocking accident at Firth Vale.’

The paragraph told briefly of the death of Richard Ferrier, and of
the discovery of Hatfield’s body in the great tank, and concluded
thus: ‘The brother of the deceased, Mr Richard Ferrier, states that
his brother went out for a stroll on the previous night in his usual
spirits. There is no clue to any explanation of the catastrophe, save
that the man Hatfield was formerly employed in this mill, and had been
heard to say that he considered himself personally aggrieved at the
closing of it. He was supposed to be in the south of England, and it
is rumoured that he secretly returned to wreak vengeance on the young
masters of the mill for the part they had taken in closing it.’

Clare read it through; her face grew white, and she passed it to
Petrovitch. He read it silently, his brow contracting. When he laid
the paper down he looked at Clare. She had sunk into a chair, her
arms stretched out over her knees to their full length, and her hands
clasped.

‘Poor fellow! poor Dick!’ she said; ‘but, oh, Cora! poor Mrs Hatfield!
How will she bear it? Oh! how cruel life is to some people. First her
daughter, and now her husband, and she is alone in some strange place,
where no one can get to her to help her to bear it!’

‘How could you help her if you knew where she was?’ asked Petrovitch.

‘I could tell her myself. I have had grief to bear–I know,’ she
answered. ‘I would save her from hearing it from some careless
stranger. I could go to her–‘

She broke off. Her hazel eyes were full of tears.

Cora laid her hand on her friend’s shoulder with a sympathetic touch.

‘I happen to know where this Mrs Hatfield is,’ said Petrovitch,
reflectively, ‘and I agree with you, Miss Stanley, that it would be
right for you to go to her.’

Clare rose instantly. As she did so the tears brimmed over, and two
fell from her long lashes.

‘I will go now,’ she said, ‘if you will tell me where she is.’

‘I will take you to her now, if you like,’ said Petrovitch.

Cora looked at him a little curiously.

‘We had better speak to mamma, I think,’ she said; ‘perhaps we can come
with you, Clare.’

The two girls left the room, and Petrovitch, for once, did not take up
a book, but stood rapt in thought through the ten minutes that passed
before the door opened again.

Clare came in alone. She was still dressed in black, of course, and had
a little close crape bonnet that seemed to enhance the prettiness of
the face it framed.

‘I am quite ready,’ she said. ‘Mrs Quaid and Cora cannot come. They
have some people coming to lunch, and I am not sorry, for poor Mrs
Hatfield ought not to be bothered by strangers.’

‘Come, then,’ he said, and they went out together. As soon as they were
outside he offered her his arm, as a matter of course, and she took it.

‘How did you know her address?’ asked Clare, as they walked along.

‘Ah! that involves explanations,’ he answered; ‘to begin with, I must
tell you that I met Count Litvinoff two days ago. It was from him I had
Mrs Hatfield’s address.’

‘I remember he and poor Hatfield used to be friends.’

‘He gave me the address for a special reason and for a special purpose.
He has married Alice Hatfield, and he wished to let her people know.’

‘Alice Hatfield! But–how long ago? How did he know her?’

‘He married her yesterday, and they have gone to Servia together. Miss
Stanley, it was with Count Litvinoff that Alice left her home.’

Clare held her peace for a moment. Her bewilderment would not let her
find words. Then she went on, ‘But he acted as though he believed
Roland had taken her away. Oh, how could he have been so base and–‘

‘Do not judge him,’ Petrovitch interrupted; ‘no one knows how he may
have been tempted, and he has repented and atoned for his fault in as
far as he could.’

‘There are some things that cannot be atoned for,’ said Clare,
compressing her lips. ‘If it had not been for him this tragedy would
never have happened. Oh, when I think–‘ She broke off suddenly.

‘When you think that he would have married you, owing all to Alice
Hatfield, you can find no words to speak of his baseness. Is it not so?’

She looked at him in mute inquiry. How did he know so much?

‘Years ago,’ he said, ‘he and I were friends, and I love him still. He
has told me much that has happened since last autumn. And I say, judge
no man’s actions, for of his temptations you cannot judge.’

Then they were both silent, and when Clare spoke again it was to
inquire how the trains went, and so on.

‘I wish you would tell me–‘ Clare began, when they were in the train
_en route_ for Dartford.

‘There is much I would wish to tell you,’ he interrupted, ‘but not
to-day, when you are going on an errand of kindness and mercy. You do
not want to talk now, you want to think; and besides, I want to see you
again. Will you write to me to-night, and tell me when and where I can
see you alone to-morrow.’

‘Yes, if you wish it,’ she said. ‘I had so much to ask you; and just
now it seems as though I could think of nothing but that man, lying
dead far north, and his poor wife here alone.’

‘Then it is a promise. We are comrades, since we serve in the same
ranks; and between comrades a special farewell is necessary. Now, we
will not talk, since you do not desire it.’

Clare leaned back in her corner, and wondered how she should break the
news to that poor widow.

But when they reached Earl’s Terrace, and found out the house where
she was, they found, too, that there was no need to break the news to
her. She knew it already, as Clare saw in a moment. Petrovitch did
not come in, and the two women met alone. What Clare said to her? It
is beyond us to write that down; and if the words were set down here,
despoiled of the tender tones, the eloquent gesture, the heart-warm
tenderness of the young girl, who had herself felt grief, what would
they be worth? In the presence of sorrow some women are inspired, but
not with words that will bear reporting.

Mrs Hatfield’s grief was not violent. She wept, but not bitterly.

‘It is the Lord’s will,’ she said, and she believed her words. When she
heard of her daughter’s marriage she said simply, ‘Thank God for a’ His
mercies! I doubt He’s been ower good to we i’ mony ways, an’ we mun
bear what He’s pleased to lay upo’ us.’

Clare would have been more at ease to have seen her weep freely, but
she seemed crushed. This last blow had mercifully benumbed her senses.
Not her gratitude, though, for when Clare rose to go she rose too, and,
taking the girl’s hands in hers, looked at her and said,–

‘An’ thee came a’ th’ way fro’ Lunnon to help an old wife to bear her
burdens. Eh! but thee’rt a bonnie lass, and as good as thee’rt comely.
Thee’ll be the light o’ some honest lad’s e’en some day, and may thee
ha’ as good a man as mine were.’

Clare kissed the faded face. She had not so kissed many faces. She put
her young, round, soft arms round the woman’s neck, and said ‘Good-bye.’

‘You’ll see me again, or hear,’ she said.

‘There’s some words as Alice were fond o’ saying time agone, and I’ll
say ’em to thee, my lass, for I’ll not see thee agen, m’appen, and they
say my meanin’ clearer nor talk o’ mine. “The Lord bless thee and keep
thee, the Lord make His face to shine upon thee and be gracious unto
thee, the Lord lift up the light of His countenance upon thee, and give
thee peace.”‘

Mrs Hatfield opened the gate for Clare to pass out. Petrovitch did not
seem to see her, yet when Clare was on his arm again he said,–

‘That woman is marked by Death. She will not live three months. Her
heart is broken.’

It was. His words came true.

When the two were once more in the train Clare’s silent mood had
passed. She would gladly have talked, but the carriage was full, and
her companion’s place being on the opposite side of the carriage,
anything but an occasional word was impossible.

She sat gazing out of the window, and he sat in the opposite corner
looking at her fixedly. As they were passing over the bridge to the
London terminus he leaned forward suddenly, and she, anticipating
some words from his movement, withdrew her eyes from the sun-bathed,
rippling river and fixed them on his. There she met such a look of
passion, and love, and longing as she had never seen in any man’s eyes
before; and as she gazed, startled, spell-bound, his voice whispered
these words, in a tone too low for any ears but hers, and yet distinct
enough for every word to be plainly heard by her, and to make her heart
bound responsively. Only these words,–

‘Whatever happens, I shall always love you.’

Then he leaned back again. Clare drew a deep breath, and the train
stopped at the Charing Cross platform.

No other word was said between them till he had called a cab and placed
her in it. Then he said, ‘Do not write to me: I will write to you.’ He
pressed her hand, drew back, and the cab was driven off.

As Petrovitch walked back to his lodgings the sky grew quickly cloudy.
It seemed as though the sunshine had gone away with Clare Stanley. By
the time he reached Osnaburgh Street the rain was beginning to fall in
big heavy splashes on the dusty pavement. He strode up the stairs to
his room, locked the door, and flung himself down in the elbow-chair
by the fireless grate. The rising wind blew the rain in gusts against
the uncurtained window, and the large drops chased each other down
the panes and obscured the view of the high houses opposite. All the
sweetness had gone out of the weather. Petrovitch noticed it, and felt
glad that it was so. He sat quite still and quite silent, his elbow on
the arm of his chair, and his forehead on his hand. Now indeed the dark
hour was upon Saul. For six months his dream, his hope, his ambition
had been to return to Russia. Now he was going at last, and the thought
of it was maddening.

He had known that he loved Clare, but he had not known how much he
loved her until that moment in the train, and then his sudden knowledge
of the strength of his own passion had broken down all his resolutions.

How could he have been such a fool as ever to speak the words which
made it impossible for him to see her again? He had not meant to speak
them. He could not understand how he had come to speak them. Their
utterance was the first unguarded action he had been guilty of for the
last ten years. And he had thought with some reason that he could rely
on his own cool-headedness and self-restraint. Now it seemed he was
mistaken. He was as much the slave of impulse as another–as much as
the man who had assumed his name.

It was incomprehensible to him. He quite failed to understand the full
force of this new over-mastering emotion. Clare! Clare! The world
seemed to mean nothing but Clare. He thought of her apart from all
the other facts and circumstances of life, of herself, her face, her
eyes, her hair, her voice, her way of holding her head, the movement
of her hands when she spoke, and it was a rapture to think of her like
this, and to let the thought of her rush over and sweep away all other
thoughts, even of his own life’s aim. Then slowly came back to him
the remembrance of all the realities of his life, and he cursed what
seemed to him his degradation. What sort of patriotism was it that the
touch of a girl’s hand could wither? What principles were they that the
look in a girl’s eyes could destroy? It was an utterly new experience
for him, and he felt as though his patriotism and his faith were dead
within him. In that hour he was man first, patriot after. But the hour
of weakness was, after all, a brief one. His patriotism was not dead.
It had been his master-passion too long for such an easy death to be
possible, and as the dusk fell and deepened into night it rose up and
met that other passion in the field and vanquished it.

It was late when he rose and lighted his lamp. It shone upon a face
white with the struggle he had gone through, but set and determined. He
turned to his table and wrote,–

‘I love you! I told you so to-day. I did not mean to tell you, and I
cannot account for or excuse the impulse that made me do so.

‘But, having done so, I cannot ask you to meet me again as comrades
meet. It would be embarrassing for you, and for me impossible. I know
you do not love me. Perhaps you will even despise me when you learn
what has been the temptation I have undergone. To give up Russia–the
Cause–the Revolution–everything–and to stay at peace in England,
and give my whole soul to the effort to win your love. I am glad to
think I am not so unworthy of you as I should have been had I yielded
to this–the strongest temptation of my life. I shall leave London
to-morrow morning; I cannot stay so near you without seeing you.

‘You will think me ungenerous in leaving you without any advice on
the subject you desire to be advised on. You shall hear from me
before long. Perhaps when I am further from you I shall be better
able to write you the sort of letter you will care to have from me.
For those who love Liberty, life is made up of renunciations, but
no renunciation could be so difficult, so bitter, as is to me the
renouncing of this least faint ghost of a chance of winning you.

MICHAEL.’

He went out and posted the letter, and when he came in again did not
indulge in any more reflections. He busied himself with packing up
his belongings, paying his rent, and making all his arrangements for
leaving London the next morning.

But when the next morning came, with a fresh radiance of blue skies and
sunlight, all his plans were overturned, all his thought unsettled, by
this telegram,

‘Clare Stanley, Marlborough Villa, N.W., to Michael Petrovitch, 37,
Osnaburgh Street, N.W.–You are not going without good-bye. Please be
in the Guildhall at twelve.’

Most men in his position would have been there at eleven at the latest.
But the clock was on the first stroke of twelve as he walked through
the crowd of fat pigeons, who, as usual, were busily eating more than
was good for them in the Guildhall yard. He passed through the arched
entrance and stood in the doorway. No one would have guessed by his
face that he was keeping an appointment made by the woman he loved.
He looked white and haggard, wretched and weary. His glance travelled
round the large hall. In front of the statue of the Earl of Chatham
stood the graceful black figure he looked for.

He walked across to her. As his footsteps sounded on the stone floor
she turned her head, but did not move to meet him. When he was quite
close to her she held out her hand in silence. He took it, pressed it,
and let it fall at once. He spoke almost sternly.

‘Why did you bring me here? I told you it was impossible for us to meet
on the old terms.’

‘I asked you to meet me _here_,’ she said, ‘because I had to come into
the City on money affairs; and for the other, I have not asked you to
do the impossible.’

She, too, was very pale, and spoke with what seemed like an effort at
lightness.

‘It is unworthy of you,’ he went on, hardly noticing her answer, ‘to
make my renunciation so much harder for me.’

‘There are enough inevitable renunciations in life for us without our
making others by misunderstandings,’ she said, her eyelids downcast.

He looked at her silently, as a man might in a dream which he feared to
break by a word. At last he spoke, in a very low voice, with his eyes
still on her face.

‘This is glory to know,’ he said, ‘but do you think it makes the
sacrifice more easy? Before it was only a chance I gave up–now it is
your very self I must renounce.’

‘Why?’ Her voice trembled a little now.

‘Because I must return to Russia. My place is there, and where I go–‘

‘I, too, will go,’ she interrupted.

He caught her wrist.

‘But if you go with me you go to almost certain death.

‘Does that matter?’ she said, and looked full in his eyes.

His fingers had closed on hers, and so they went out together into the
bright English sunshine. Not more serenely, not more gladly, than they
would hereafter go, hand in hand, into the black darkness and oblivion
that waits to swallow those who dare to set themselves against the
bitter tyranny of Russia.

To each of them that day had given the most perfect gift of life, and
both were content to offer up that gift–life itself even–for the sake
of the Liberty they loved–the Liberty who, though she may not crown
their lives–will consecrate their graves.