Six weeks after he had made his speech in the House of Lords, Tremayne was sitting in his oak-panelled library at Alanmere, in deep and earnest converse with a man who was sitting in an invalid chair by a window looking out upon the lawn. The face of this man exhibited a contrast so striking and at the same time terrible, that the most careless glance cast upon it would have revealed the fact that it was the face of a man of extraordinary character, and that the story of some strange fate was indelibly stamped upon it.
The upper part of it, as far down as the mouth, was cast in a mould of the highest and most intellectual manly beauty. The forehead was high and broad and smooth, the eyebrows dark and firm but finely arched, the nose somewhat prominently aquiline, but well shaped, and with delicate, sensitive nostrils. The eyes were deep-set, large and soft, and dark as the sky of a moonless night, yet shining in the firelight with a strange magnetic glint that seemed to fasten Tremayne’s gaze and hold it at will.
But the lower portion of the face was as repulsive as the upper part was attractive. The mouth was the mouth of a wild beast, and the lips and cheeks and chin were seared and seamed as though with fire, and what looked like the remains of a moustache and beard stood in black ragged patches about the heavy unsightly jaws.
When the thick, shapeless lips parted, they did so in a hideous grin, which made visible long, sharp white teeth, more like those of a wolf than those of a human being.
His body, too, exhibited no less strange a contrast than his face did. To the hips it was that of a man of well-knit, muscular frame, not massive, but strong and well-proportioned. The arms were long and muscular, and the hands white and small, but firm, well-shaped, and nervous.
But from his hips downwards, this strange being was a dwarf and a cripple. His hips were narrow and shrunken, one of his legs was some inches shorter than the other, and both were twisted and distorted, and hung helplessly down from the chair as he sat.
Such was Natas, the Master of the Terror, and the man whose wrongs, whatever they might have been, had caused him to devote his life to a work of colossal vengeance, and his incomparable powers to the overthrow of a whole civilisation.
The tremendous task to which he had addressed himself with all the force of his mighty nature for twenty years, was now at length approaching completion. The mine that he had so patiently laid, year after year, beneath the foundations of Society, was complete in every detail, the first spark had been applied, and the first rumbling of the explosion was already sounding in the ears of men, though they little knew how much it imported. The work of the master-intellect was almost done. The long days and nights of plotting and planning were over, and the hour for action had arrived at last.
For him there was little more to do, and the time was very near when he could retire from the strife, and watch in peace and confidence the reaping of the harvest of ruin and desolation that his hands had sown. Henceforth, the central figure in the world-revolution must be the young English engineer, whose genius had brought him forth out of his obscurity to take command of the subjugated powers of the air, and to arbitrate the destinies of the world.
This was why he was sitting here, in the long twilight of the June evening, talking so earnestly with the man who, under the spell of his mysterious power and master-will, had been his second self in completing the work that he had designed, and had thought and spoken and acted as he had inspired him against all the traditions of his race and station, in that strange double life that he had lived, in each portion of which he had been unconscious of all that he had been and had done in the other. The time had now come to draw aside the veil which had so far divided these two lives from each other, to show him each as it was in very truth, and to leave him free to deliberately choose between them.
Natas had been speaking without any interruption from Tremayne for nearly an hour, drawing the parallel of the two lives before him with absolute fidelity, neither omitting nor justifying anything, and his wondering hearer had listened to him in silence, unable to speak for the crowding emotions which were swarming through his brain. At length Natas concluded by saying —
“And now, Alan Tremayne, I have shown you faithfully the two paths which you have trodden since first I had need of you. So far you have been as clay in the hands of the potter. Now the spell is removed, and you are free to choose which of them you will follow to the end — that of the English gentleman of fortune and high position, whose country is on the brink of a war that will tax her vast resources to the utmost, and may end in her ruin; or that of the visible and controlling head of the only organisation which can at the supreme moment be the arbiter of peace or war, order or anarchy, and which alone, if any earthly power can, will evolve order out of chaos, and bring peace on earth at last.”
As Natas ceased, Tremayne passed his hand slowly over his eyes and brows, as though to clear away the mists which obscured his mental vision. Then he rose from his chair, and paced the floor with quick, uneven strides for several minutes. At length he replied, speaking as one might who was just waking from some evil dream —
“You have made a conspirator and a murderer of me. How is it possible that, knowing this, I can again become what I was before your infernal influence was cast about me?”
“What you have done at my command is nothing to you, and leaves no stain upon your honour, if you choose to put it so, for it was not your will that was working within you, but mine. As for the killing of Dornovitch, it was necessary, and you were the only instrument by which it could have been accomplished before irretrievable harm had been done.
“He alone of the outside world possessed the secret of the Terror. A woman of the Outer Circle in Paris had allowed her love for him to overcome her duty to the Brotherhood, and had betrayed what she could, in order, as she vainly thought, to shield him from its vengeance for the executive murders of the year before. He too had on him the draft of the secret treaty, the possession of which has enabled us to control the drift of European politics at the most crucial time.
“Had he escaped, not only would hundreds of lives have been sacrificed on suspicion to Russian official vengeance, but Russia and France would now be masters of the British line of communication to the East, for it would not have been possible for Mr. Balfour to have been forewarned, and therefore forearmed, in time to double the Mediterranean Squadron as he has done. Surely one Russian’s life is not too great a price to pay for all that.”
“I do not care for the man’s life, for he was an enemy, and even then plotting the ruin of my own country in the dark. It is not the killing, but the manner of it. England does not fight her battles with the assassin’s knife, and his blood is on my hands”—
“On your hands, perhaps, but not on your soul. It is on mine, and I will answer for it when we stand face to face at the Bar where all secrets are laid bare. The man deserved death, for he was plotting the death of thousands. What matter then how or by whose hands he died?
“It is time the world had done with these miserable sophistries, and these spurious distinctions between murder by wholesale and by retail, and it soon will have done with them. I, by your hand, killed Dornovitch in his sleep. That was murder, says the legal casuist. You read this morning in the Times how one of the Russian war-balloons went the night before last and hung in the darkness over a sleeping town on the Austrian frontier, and dropped dynamite shells upon it, killing and maiming hundreds who had no personal quarrel with Russia. That is war, and therefore lawful!
“Nonsense, my friend, nonsense! There is no difference. All violence is crime, if you will, but it is a question of degree only. The world is mad on this subject of war. It considers the horrible thing honourable, and gives its highest distinctions to those who shed blood most skilfully on the battlefield, and the triumphs that are won by superior force or cunning are called glorious, and those who achieve them the nations fall down and worship.
“The nations must be taught wisdom, for war has had victims enough. But men are still foolish, and to cure them a terrible lesson will be necessary. But that lesson shall be taught, even though the whole earth be turned into a battlefield, and all the dwellings of men into charnel-houses, in order to teach it to them.”
“In other words, Society is to be dissolved in order that anarchy and lawlessness may take its place. Society may not be perfect — nay, I will grant that its sins are many and grievous, that it has forgotten its duty both to God and man in its worship of Mammon and its slavery to externals — but you who have plotted its destruction, have you anything better to put in its place? You can destroy, perhaps, but can you build up?”
“The jungle must be cleared and the swamp drained before the habitations of men can be built in their place. It has been mine to destroy, and I will pursue the work of destruction to the end, as I have sworn to do by that Name which a Jew holds too sacred for speech. I believe myself to be the instrument of vengeance upon this generation, even as Joshua was upon Canaan, and as Khalid the Sword of God was upon Byzantium in the days of her corruption. You may hold this for an old man’s fancy if you will, but it shall surely come to pass in the fulness of time, which is now at hand; and then, where I have destroyed, may you, if you will, build up again!”
“What do you mean? You are speaking in parables.”
“Which shall soon be made plain. You read in your newspaper this morning of a mysterious movement that is taking place throughout the Buddhist peoples of the East. They believe that Buddha has returned to earth, reincarnated, to lead them to the conquest of the world. Now, as you know, every fourth man, woman, and child in the whole human race is a Buddhist, and the meaning of this movement is that that mighty mass of humanity, pent up and stagnant for centuries, is about to burst its bounds and overflow the earth in a flood of desolation and destruction.
“The nations of the West know nothing of this, and are unsheathing the sword to destroy each other. Like a house divided against itself, their power shall be brought to confusion, and their empire be made as a wilderness. And over the starving and war-smitten lands of Europe these Eastern swarms shall sweep, innumerable as the locusts, resistless as the pestilence, and what fire and sword have spared they shall devour, and nothing shall be left of all the glory of Christendom but its name and the memory of its fall!”
Natas spoke his frightful prophecy like one entranced, and when he had finished he let his head fall forward for a moment on his breast, as though he were exhausted. Then he raised it again, and went on in a calmer voice —
“There is but one power under heaven that can stand between the Western world and this destruction, and that is the race to which you belong. It is the conquering race of earth, and the choicest fruit of all the ages until now. It is nearly two hundred million strong, and it is united by the ties of kindred blood and speech the wide world over.
“But it is also divided by petty jealousies, and mean commercial interests. But for these the world might be an Anglo–Saxon planet. Would it not be a glorious task for you, who are the flower of this splendid race, so to unite it that it should stand as a solid barrier of invincible manhood before which this impending flood of yellow barbarism should dash itself to pieces like the cloud-waves against the granite summits of the eternal hills?”
“A glorious task, truly!” exclaimed Tremayne, once more springing from his chair and beginning to pace the room again; “but the man is not yet born who could accomplish it.”
“There are fifty men on earth at this moment who can accomplish it, and of them the two chief are Englishmen — yourself and this Richard Arnold, whose genius has given the Terrorists the command of the air.
“Come, Alan Tremayne! here is a destiny such as no man ever had before revealed to him. It is not for a man of your nation and lineage to shrink from it. You have reproached me for using you to unworthy ends, as you thought them, and with pulling down where I am not able to build up again. Obey me still, this time of your own free will and with your eyes open, and, as I have pulled down by your hand, so by it will I build up again, if the Master of Destiny shall permit me; and if not, then shall you achieve the task without me. Now give me your ears, for the words that I have to say are weighty ones.
“No human power can stop the war that has now begun, nor can any curtail it until it has run its appointed course. But we have at our command a power which, if skilfully applied at the right moment, will turn the tide of conflict in favour of Britain, and if at that moment the Mother of Nations can gather her children about her in obedience to the call of common kindred, all shall be well, and the world shall be hers.
“But before that is made possible she must pass through the fire, and be purged of that corruption which is even now poisoning her blood and clouding her eyes in the presence of her enemies. The overweening lust of gold must be burnt out of her soul in the fiery crucible of war, and she must learn to hold honour once more higher than wealth, and rich and poor and gentle and simple must be as one family, and not as master and servant.
“East and west, north and south, wherever the English tongue is spoken, men must clasp hands and forget all other things save that they are brothers of blood and speech, and that the world is theirs if they choose to take it. This is a work that cannot be done by any nation, but only by a whole race, which with millions of hands and a single heart devotes itself to achieve success or perish.”
“Brave words, brave words!” cried Tremayne, pausing in his walk in front of the chair in which Natas sat; “and if you could make me believe them true, I would follow you blindly to the end, no matter what the path might be. But I cannot believe them. I cannot think that you or I and a few followers, even aided by Arnold and his aërial fleet, could accomplish such a stupendous task as that. It is too great. It is superhuman! And yet it would be glorious even to fail worthily in such a task, even to fall fighting in such a Titanic conflict!”
He paused, and stood silent and irresolute, as though appalled by the prospect with which he was confronted here at the parting of the ways. He glanced at the extraordinary being sitting near him, and saw his deep, dark eyes fixed upon him, as though they were reading his very soul within him. Then he took a step towards the cripple’s chair, took his right hand in his, and said slowly and steadily and solemnly —
“It is a worthy destiny! I will essay it for good or evil, for life or death. I am with you to the end!”
As Tremayne spoke the fatal words which once more bound him, and this time for life and of his own free will, to Natas the Jew, this cripple who, chained to his chair, yet aspired to the throne of a world, he fancied he saw his shapeless lips move in a smile, and into his eyes there came a proud look of mingled joy and triumph as he returned the handclasp, and said in a softer, kinder voice than Tremayne had ever heard him use before —
“Well spoken! Those words were worthy of you and of your race! As your faith is, so shall your reward be. Now wheel my chair to yonder window that looks out towards the east, and you shall look past the shadows into the day which is beyond. So! that will do. Now get another chair and sit beside me. Fix your eyes on that bright star that shows above the trees, and do not speak, but think only of that star and its brightness.”
Tremayne did as he was bidden in silence, and when he was seated Natas swept his hands gently downwards over his open eyes again and again, till the lids grew heavy and fell, shutting out the brightness of the star, and the dim beauty of the landscape which lay sleeping in the twilight and the June night.
Then suddenly it seemed as though they opened again of their own accord, and were endowed with an infinite power of vision. The trees and lawns of the home park of Alanmere and the dark rolling hills of heather beyond were gone, and in their place lay stretched out a continent which he saw as though from some enormous height, with its plains and lowlands and rivers, vast steppes and snowclad hills, forests and tablelands, huge mountain masses rearing lonely peaks of everlasting ice to a sunlight that had no heat; and then beyond these again more plains and forests, that stretched away southward until they merged in the all-surrounding sea.
Then he seemed to be carried forward towards the scene until he could distinguish the smallest objects upon the earth, and he saw, swarming southward and westward, vast hordes of men, that divided into long streams, and poured through mountain passes and defiles, and spread themselves again over fertile lands, like locusts over green fields of young corn. And wherever those hordes swept forward, a long line of fire and smoke went in front of them, and where they had passed the earth was a blackened wilderness.
Then, too, from the coasts and islands vast fleets of war-ships put out, pouring their clouds of smoke to the sky, and making swiftly for the southward and westward, where from other coasts and islands other vessels put out to meet them, and, meeting them, were lost with them under great clouds of grey smoke, through which flashed incessantly long livid tongues of flame.
Then, like a panorama rolled away from him, the mighty picture receded and new lands came into view, familiar lands which he had traversed often. They too were black and wasted with the tempest of war from east to west, but nevertheless those swarming streams came on, countless and undiminished, up out of the south and east, while on the western verge vast armies and fleets battled desperately with each other on sea and land, as though they heeded not those locust swarms of dusky millions coming ever nearer and nearer.
Once more the scene rolled backwards, and he saw a mighty city closely beleaguered by two vast hosts of men, who slowly pushed their batteries forward until they planted them on all the surrounding heights, and poured a hail of shot and shell upon the swarming, helpless millions that were crowded within the impassable ring of fire and smoke. Above the devoted city swam in mid-air strange shapes like monstrous birds of prey, and beneath where they floated the earth seemed ever and anon to open and belch forth smoke and flame into which the crumbling houses fell and burnt in heaps of shapeless ruins. Then ——
He felt a cool hand laid almost caressingly on his brow, and the voice of Natas said beside him —
“That is enough. You have seen the Field of Armageddon, and when the day of battle comes you shall be there and play the part allotted to you from the beginning. Do you believe?”
“Yes,” replied Tremayne, rising wearily from his chair, “I believe; and as the task is, so may Heaven make my strength in the stress of battle!”
“Amen!” said Natas very solemnly.
That night the young Lord of Alanmere went sleepless to bed, and lay awake till dawn, revolving over and over again in his mind the marvellous things that he had seen and heard, and the tremendous task to which he had now irrevocably committed himself for good or evil. In all these waking dreams there was ever present before his mental vision the face of a woman whose beauty was like and yet unlike that of the daughter of Natas. It lacked the brilliance and subtle charm which in Natasha so wondrously blended the dusky beauty of the daughters of the South with the fairer loveliness of the daughters of the North; but it atoned for this by that softer grace and sweetness which is the highest charm of purely English beauty.
It was the face of the woman whom, in that portion of his strange double life which had been free from the mysterious influence of Natas, he had loved with well-assured hope that she would one day rule his house and broad domains with him. She was now Lady Muriel Penarth, the daughter of Lord Marazion, a Cornish nobleman, whose estates abutted on those which belonged to Lord Alanmere as Baron Tremayne, of Tremayne, in the county of Cornwall, as the Peerage had it. Noble alike by lineage and nature, no fairer mistress could have been found for the lands of Tremayne and Alanmere, but — what seas of blood and flame now lay between him and the realisation of his love-ideal!
He must forsake his own, and become a revolutionary and an outcast from Society. He must draw the sword upon the world and his own race, and, armed with the most awful means of destruction that the wit of man had ever devised, he must fight his way through universal war to that peace which alone he could ask her to share with him. Still much could be done before he took the final step of severance which might be perpetual, and he would lose no time in doing it.
As soon as it was fairly light, he rose and took a long, rapid walk over the home park, and when he returned to breakfast at nine he had resolved to execute forthwith a deed of gift, transferring the whole of his vast property, which was unentailed and therefore entirely at his own disposal, to the woman who was to have shared it with him in a few months as his wife. If the Fates were kind, he would come back from the world-war and reclaim both the lands and their mistress, and if not he would have the satisfaction of knowing that his broad acres at least had a worthy mistress.
At breakfast he met Natas again, and during the meal one of his footmen entered, bringing the letters that had come by the morning post.
There were several letters for each of them, those for Natas being addressed to “Herr F. Niemand,” and for some time they were both employed in looking through their correspondence. Suddenly Natas looked up, and said —
“When do you expect to hear that Arnold is off the south coast?”
“Almost any day now; in fact, within the week, if everything has gone right. Here is a letter from Johnston to say that the Lurline has arrived at Plymouth, and that a bright look-out is being kept for him. He will telegraph here and to the club in London as soon as the air-ship is sighted. Twenty-four hours will then see us on board the Ariel, or whichever of the ships he comes in.”
“I hope the news will come soon, for Michael Roburoff, the President’s brother, who has been in command of the American Section, cables to say that he sails from New York the day after tomorrow with detailed accounts. That means that he will come with full reports of what the Section has done and will be ready to do when the time comes, and also what the enemy are doing.
“He sails in the Aurania, and as the Atlantic routes are swarming with war-ships and torpedo-boats, she will probably have to run the gauntlet, and it is of the last importance that Michael and his reports reach us safely. It will therefore be necessary for the air-ship to meet the Aurania as soon as possible on her passage, and take him off her before any harm happens to him. If he and his reports fell into the hands of the enemy, there is no telling what might happen.”
“As nearly as I can calculate,” said Tremayne, “the air-ship should be sighted in three days from now, perhaps in two. It will take the Aurania over four days to cross the Atlantic, and so we ought to be able to meet her somewhere in mid-ocean if she is able to get so far without being overhauled. Unfortunately she is known to be a British ship and subsidised by the British Government, so there will be very little chance of her getting through under the American flag. Still she’s about the fastest steamer afloat, and will take a lot of catching.”
“And if the worst comes and she falls into the hands of the enemy, we must fight our first naval battle and retake her, even if we have to sink a few cruisers to do so,” added Natas; “for, come what may, Michael must not be captured.”
“Arnold will almost certainly come in his flagship, and if she is what he promised, she should be more than a match for a whole fleet, so I don’t think there is much to fear unless the Aurania gets sunk before we reach her,” said Tremayne.
Natas and his host devoted the rest of the forenoon to their correspondence, and to making the final arrangements for leaving Alanmere. Tremayne wrote full instructions to his lawyers for the drawing up of the deed, and directed them to have it ready for his signature by two o’clock on the following day. After lunch he rode over to Knaresborough himself with the post-bag, telegraphed an abstract of his instructions in advance, and ordered his private saloon carriage to be attached to the up express which passed through at eight the next morning.
Last updated Monday, December 22, 2014 at 10:50