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Full Online Book HomeLong StoriesPrince Fortunatus - Chapter 13. A New Experience
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Prince Fortunatus - Chapter 13. A New Experience Post by :Ken_Stone Category :Long Stories Author :William Black Date :May 2012 Read :1376

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Prince Fortunatus - Chapter 13. A New Experience


Was it possible in the nature of things that Prince Fortunatus should find his spirits dashed with gloom--he whose existence had hitherto been a long series of golden moments, each brighter and more welcome than the other; Even if he had to leave this still and beautiful valley where he had found so much gracious companionship and so many pleasant pursuits, look what was before him; he was returning to be greeted with the applause of enthusiastic audiences, to be sought after and courted and petted in private circles, to find himself talked about in the newspapers, and his portraits exhibited in every other shop-window--in short, to enjoy all the little flatteries and attentions and triumphs attaching to a wide and not ill-deserved popularity. And yet as he sat at this farewell luncheon on the day of his departure, he was the only silent one among these friends of his, who were all chattering around him.

"I'm sure I envy you, Mr. Moore," said his charming hostess, "going away back to the very centre of the intellectual world. It will be such a change for you to find yourself in the very midst of everything--hearing about all that is going on--the new books, the new plays, the new pictures. I suppose that in October there are plenty of pleasant people back in town; and perhaps the dinner-parties are all the more enjoyable when you know that the number of nice people is limited. One really does get tired of this mental stagnation."

"I wish, Mr. Moore," said Lady Rosamund, rather spitefully (considering that her brother was present), "you would take Rockminster with you. He won't go on the hill, and he's no use in the drawing-room. I am certain at this minute he would rather be walking down St. James Street to his club."

"I don't wonder at it!" cried Miss Georgie Lestrange, coming gallantly to the apathetic young man's rescue. "Look how he's situated. There's Sir Hugh and my brother away all day; Lord Fareborough has never come out of his room since the morning he tried deer-stalking; and what can Lord Rockminster find to arouse him in a pack of girls? Oh, I know what he thinks of us," she continued, very placidly. "I remember, if he chooses to forget. Don't you recollect, Rose, the night we were constructing an ideal kingdom by drawing up a list of all the people we should have banished? Every one had his or her turn at saying who should be expelled--people who come late to dinner, people who fence with spiked wire, people who talk in theatres, people who say 'like he does,' and so forth; and when somebody suggested 'all young women who wear red veils,' Lord Rockminster immediately added, 'and all young women who don't wear red veils.' Now you needn't deny it."

"Excuse me, I'm sure I never said anything of the kind; but it's not of the least consequence," Lord Rockminster observed, with perfect composure. "Anything to please you poor dears. You understand well enough why I linger on here--just to give you young creatures a chance of sharpening your wits on me. You wouldn't know what to do without me."

"Rockminster is going to give the world a volume of poems," said Lady Rosamund, who seemed to be rather ill-tempered and scornful this morning. "Nobody could stare at the clouds and hills as he does without being a poet. When he does burst into speech it will be something awful."

"Have you your flask filled?" said that much-bepestered young man, calmly turning to Lionel.

"Oh, yes, thanks."

"When you get to Invershin," his lordship continued, thoughtfully, "you can telegraph to the Station Hotel at Inverness what you want for dinner. No soup; I make it a rule never to take soup in a big hotel; a friendly manager once warned me in confidence. You'll be glad to have a bit of white fish after so much grilse and sea-trout."

"Oh, I'll take my chance," Lionel said; it was not dinner that was occupying his thoughts.

There was a sound of horses' hoofs and carriage wheels; the wagonette was being brought round to the front door.

"I consider it very shabby of Honnor not to have stayed to say good-bye," Lady Adela said to her departing guest. "She might have given up one morning's fishing, I think, especially as you have been such an assiduous attendant--carrying her things for her, and keeping her company on those long excursions--"

"Oh, don't be afraid," said Miss Georgie, with a bit of a covert laugh. "Honnor won't forsake her friend like that. I'll bet you she won't be far from the Horse's Drink when Mr. Moore has to cross the stream."

"If I were you," Lord Rockminster finally said, in a confidential undertone, as they all rose from the table, "I would telegraph about dinner."

How Lionel hated the sight of this open door, and the wagonette, and the portmanteau up beside the coachman!

"Good-bye, Mr. Moore," said the pleasant-mannered young matron to him, as she took his hand for a moment. "I'm afraid it has been awfully dull for you--"

"Lady Adela!" he said.

"But the next time you come we shall try to be less monotonously bucolic. Perhaps by then the phonograph will be able to bring us a whole musical evening from London, whenever we want it--a whole performance of an operetta--"

"Offenbach in a Highland valley!" he exclaimed.

"No," she said, very quietly and graciously; "but perhaps something by the composer of 'The Squire's Daughter'--and there might be in it an air as delightful as that of 'The Starry Night.' Oh, Mr. Moore, don't let them produce any other piece at the New Theatre until we all get back to London again! Well, good-bye--it's so kind of you to have taken pity on us in this wilderness--"

"If you knew how sorry I am to go, Lady Adela!" he said. "And will you say good-bye for me to Miss Cunyngham?"

"You needn't bother to leave a message," said Miss Georgie, with significant eyes. "You'll find she won't be far away from the Horse's Drink."

And as it chanced, Miss Georgie's forecast (whether inspired by a saucy impertinence or not) proved correct. Lionel, having bade farewell to all these friends, got into the wagonette; and away the carriage went--quietly, at first, over the soft turf and stones--to the river. Of course he looked out. Yes, there was Miss Honnor--fishing the Whirl Pool--with old Robert sitting on the shingle watching her. Would she notice?--or would he get down and walk along to her and claim the good-bye she had forgotten? The next moment he was reassured. She caught sight of the approaching wagonette; she carefully placed her rod on the shingle, and then came walking along the river-bank, towards the ford, at which the horses had now arrived.

Even at a distance he could not but admire the grace and ease and dignity of her carriage--the harmonious movement of a perfectly formed figure; and as she drew nearer he kept asking himself (as if the question were necessary) whether he would be able to take away a keen mental photograph of those fine features--the clear and placid forehead, the strongly marked eyebrows, the calm, self-reliant eyes, the proud and yet not unsympathetic lines of the mouth. She came nearer; a smile lit up her face; and there was a kind of radiance there, he thought. He had leaped down from the wagonette: he went forward to meet her; her hand was outstretched.

"I am sorry you are going," she said, frankly.

"And I am far more sorry to have to go," said he, and he held her hand a little longer than there was any occasion for, until she gently withdrew it. "There are so many things I should like to say to you, Miss Honnor; but somehow they always escape you just when they're wanted; and I've told you so often before that I am not likely to forget your kindness to me up here--"

"Surely it is the other way about!" she said, pleasantly. "You have come and cheered up my lonely hours--and been so patient--never grumbled--never looked away up the hill as if you would have given your life to be after the grouse; and in the drawing-room of an evening you've always sung when I asked you--when I was inconsiderate enough to ask you--"

"My goodness! Miss Honnor," he said, "if I had known you looked on it in that light, I should have sung for you constantly, whether you asked or not."

"Well, it's all over now," said she, "and I hope you are taking away with you a pleasant memory of Strathaivron."

"I have spent the happiest days of my life here," he said; and then he hesitated--was about to speak--hesitated again--and finally blurted out, "Is there anything I can do for you in London, Miss Honnor?"

"No, thanks," she said. "By the way, you'll have an hour or two in Inverness. You might go in to Mr. Watson's and ask him to send me out a few more flies--if you have plenty of time, that is."

"I shall be delighted," said he, as if she had conferred the greatest favor on him.

"Well, good-bye--I mustn't keep you late for the train."

"But we shall meet in the South?"

"I hope so," she said, in a very amiable and friendly fashion; and she stood waiting there until he had got into the wagonette, and until the horses had splashed their way across the ford; then she waved her hand to him, and, with a parting smile, turned down the stream again, to rejoin Robert and pick up her rod.

Nor was this quite the last he was to see of those good friends. When the horses had strenuously hauled the carriage up that steep hillside and got into the level highway, he turned to look back at the Lodge, set in the midst of the wide strath, and behold! there was a fluttering of white handkerchiefs there, Lady Adela and her sisters and Miss Georgie still lingering in the porch. Again and again he made response. Then, as he drove on, he caught another glance of Miss Honnor, who, far below him, was industriously fishing the Whirl Pool; when she heard the sound of the wheels, she looked up and waved her hand to him as he went by. Finally there came the crack of a gun across the wide strath; it was a signal from the shooting-party--away on a distant hillside--and he could just make out that they, also, were sending him a telegraphic good-bye. At each opening through the birch-wood skirting the road he answered these farewells, until Strathaivron Lodge was no longer in sight; and then he settled himself in his seat and resigned himself to the long journey.

This was not a pleasant drive. He was depressed with a vague aching and emptiness of the heart that he could not well account for. A schoolboy returning to his tasks after a long holiday would not be quite so profoundly miserable--so reckless, dissatisfied, and ill at ease. But perhaps it was the loss of one of those pleasant companions that was troubling him? Which one, then (he made pretence of asking himself), was he sorriest to part from? Lady Adela, who was always so bright and talkative and cheerful, so charming a hostess, so considerate and gentle a friend? Or the mystic-eyed Lady Sybil, who many an evening had led him away into the wonder-land of Chopin, for she was an accomplished pianist, if her own compositions were but feeble echoes of the masters? Or the more quick-spirited Lady Rosamund, the imperious and petulant beauty, who, in a way most unwonted with her, had bestowed upon him exceptional favor? Or that atrocious little flirt, Miss Georgie Lestrange, with her saucy smiles and speeches, her malicious laugh, and demure, significant eyes?--it was hardly to be wondered at if she made an impression on any young man, for the minx had an abundance of good looks, despite her ruddy hair and pert nose. As for Miss Honnor Cunyngham--oh, no!--she was too far away--she lived remote, isolated, apart--she neither gave nor demanded sympathy or society--she was sufficient unto herself alone. But why ask whether it were this one or that? Soon he would be forgotten by them all. He would be swallowed up in the great city--swept away in the current of its feverish activities--his voice hardly heard above the general din; while they would still be pursuing their various pastimes in this little world of solitude and quiet, or moving on to entertain their friends with the more pompous festivities of the Braes.

It was odd that he should be carrying away with him the seeds of homesickness for a place in which his stay had been counted by weeks. So anxious, indeed, was he to assure himself that his relations with that beautiful valley and its inmates were not entirely severed that, the moment he reached Inverness, instead of going into the Station Hotel and ordering his dinner like a reasonable being, he must needs go straightway off to Mr. Watson's shop.

"I suppose," said he, with a little hesitation--for he did not know whether to mention Miss Cunyngham's name or not--he was afraid he might betray some quite uncalled-for embarrassment--"I suppose you know the flies they use on the Aivron this time of year."

Mr. Watson knew well enough; who better!

"I mean on the Strathaivron Lodge stretch of the water?" Lionel continued.

"Oh, yes; I am often sending flies to Miss Cunyngham," was the answer.

"Oh, Miss Cunyngham?" said Lionel. "It is for her I want some flies."

"Very well, sir, I will make up a small packet, and send it to her? Miss Cunyngham has an account with me--"

"No, no, that isn't what I mean at all," Lionel interposed, hastily. "I want to make Miss Cunyngham a little present. The fact is, I was using her book," he observed, with some importance (as if it could in the least concern a worthy tackle-maker in Inverness to know who had gone fishing with Miss Cunyngham), "and I whipped off a good number, so I want to make amends, don't you see?"

"Very well, sir; how many will I put up?"

"All you've got," was the prompt reply.

Mr. Watson stared.

"Oh, yes," Lionel said. "Miss Cunyngham may as well have a good stock at once. You know the proper kinds--Blue Doctors, Childerses, Jock Scotts, Dirty Yellows, Bishops, Bees--that's about it, isn't it?--and put in plenty of various sizes. Then don't make a parcel of them; put them into those japanned boxes with the cork in them--never mind how many; and if you can't tell me at once how much it will all come to, I will leave you my London address, and you'll send the bill to me. Now if you will be so kind as to give me a sheet of paper and an envelope, I will write a note to accompany the packet."

Mr. Watson probably thought that this young man was daft, but it was not his business to say so; he took down his erratic customer's address and said that all his instructions would be attended to forthwith.

Next Lionel went to a tobacconist's shop, and (for he was a most lavish young man) he ordered a prodigious quantity of "twist," which he had made up into two parcels, the smaller one for Roderick, the larger to be divided equally among the other keepers and gillies. The two parcels he had put into a wooden case, which, again, was filled up with boxes of vesuvians, three or four dozen or so; and it is to be imagined that when _that small hamper was opened at Strathaivron there was many a chuckle of gratification over the division of the splendid spoil.

Finally--for human nature is but human nature after all; he had been thinking of others so far, and he was now entitled to consider himself a little--he thought he would go along to Mr. Macleay's. When he arrived at the shop, he glanced in at the windows; but among the wild-cats, ptarmigan, black game, mallards, and what not, there was nothing to arrest his attention; it was a stag's head he had in his mind. He went inside, and his first sensation was one of absolute bewilderment. This crowded museum of birds, beasts, and fish--skarts, goosanders, sand-grouse, terns, eagles, ospreys, squirrels, foxes, big-snouted trout, harts, hinds, bucks, does, owls, kestrels, falcons, merlins, and every variety of the common gull shot by the all-pervading Cockney--staring, stuffed, silent, they were a confusion to the eyes, and nowhere could he find his own, his particular, his precious stag. Alas! when Mr. Macleay was so kind as to take him behind into the workshop--which resembled a huge shambles, almost--and when, from among the vast number of heads and horns lying and hanging everywhere around, the Strathaivron head was at last produced, Lionel was horribly shocked and disappointed. Was this, then, his trophy that he hoped to have hung up for the admiration of his friends and his own ecstatic contemplation--this twisted, shapeless, sightless lump of hide and hair, with a great jaw of discolored teeth gleaming from under its flabby folds? It is true that here were the identical horns, for had he not gone lovingly over every tine of them?--but was this rag of a thing all that was left of the splendid stag he had beheld lying on the heather? However, Mr. Macleay speedily reassured him. He was shown the various processes and stages of the taxidermist's art, the amorphous mass of skin and hair gradually taking shape and substance until it stood forth in all its glory of flaming eye and proud nostril and branching antlers; and he was highly pleased to be told that this head he had got in Strathaivron was a fairly good one, as stags now go in the North. So, all his shopping being done, he set off again for the Station Hotel, where he got what he wanted in the shape of dinner, followed by a long and meditative smoke in the billiard-room, with visions appearing among the curls of blue vapor.

What the Highland Railway manages to do with the trains which it despatches from Inverness at 10 P.M. and reproduces the next morning at Perth about 7, it is impossible for the mind of man to imagine; but it is not of much consequence so long as you are snugly ensconced in a sleeping-berth; and Lionel passed the night in profound oblivion. With the new day, however, these unavailing and torturing regrets began again; for now he felt himself more completely than before shut off from the friends he had left; and Strathaivron and all its associations and pursuits had grown distant like a dream. He was lucky enough, on this southward journey, to get a compartment to himself; and here was an excellent opportunity for him to have practised his _vocalises_; but it was not of _vocalises_, nor of anything connected with the theatre, that he was thinking. He was much franker with himself now. He no longer tried to conceal from himself the cause of this vague unrest, this useless looking back and longing, this curious downhearted sense of solitariness. A new experience, truly, and a bewildering one! Indeed, he was ashamed of his own folly. For what was it that he wanted? A mere continuance of that friendly alliance and companionship which he had enjoyed all this time? Was he indulging a sort of sentimental misery simply because he could not walk down to the Aivron's banks and talk to Miss Honnor and watch the sun tracing threads of gold among her tightly braided hair? If that were all, he might get out at the next station, make his way back to the beloved strath, and be sure that Honnor Cunyngham would welcome him just as of old, and allow him to carry her waterproof or ask him to have a cast over the Junction Pool. He had no reason to fear any break in this friendship that had been formed. When he should see her in Brighton, she would be to him as she had been yesterday, when they said good-bye by the side of the river. And were not these the only possible relations between them; and ought he not to be proud and content that he could look forward to an enduring continuance of them?

Yes; but some man would be coming along and marrying her; and where would he be then? What would become of this alliance, this friendly understanding--perhaps, even, some little interest on her part in his affairs--what would become of all these relations, then? It was the way of the world. Their paths would be divided--he would hear vaguely of her--perhaps see her name in the papers as being at a drawing-room or something of the kind. She would have forgotten all those long, still days by the Aivron and the Geinig; no echo would remain in her memory of "The Bonnie Earl o' Morau," as he had sung it for her, with all the passionate pathos of which he was capable; she would be a stranger--moving afar--one heard of only--a remembrance--and no more. So the impalpable future was interwoven with those dreams and not too happy forecasts, as the train thundered on its way, along the wooded banks of the Allan Water and towards the winding Links of Forth.

But there was an alternative that would recur again and again to his fancy, though in rather a confused and breathless way. What if, in the very despair of losing her altogether, at the very moment of parting with her, he had made bold to claim this proud-spirited maiden all for himself? Might not some such sudden and audacious proposal have been the very thing to appeal to her--the very thing to capture her? A challenge--a demand that she should submit--that she should come down from those serene heights of independence and yield herself a willing and gracious helpmeet and companion for life to this daring suitor; might not that have secured for him this wondrous prize? If she had any regard for him at all, she might have been startled into confession. A couple of words--there by the side of the Aivron--might have been enough. No theatrical professions nor mock homage, no kneeling at her feet or swearing by eternal stars; but a look into her eyes--a clasp of the hand--a single question? Something he had indeed meant to say to her, as they stood face to face there for the last time--something, he hardly knew what; and yet his hesitation had been but natural; he might have been hurried into saying too much; he dared not offend. Nay, even as he held her hand, he was unaware of the true state of his feeling towards her; it was this separation--this ever-increasing distance between them--that had enabled him to understand.

And then again his mood changed into one of bitter self-reproach and self-contempt. What miserable folly was this crying for the moon--this picturing of a marriage between the daughter of an ancient and wealthy house--one, too, who was unmistakably proud of her lineage--and a singer in comic opera! Not for nothing had he heard of the twin brothers Cunyngham who fell on Flodden Field. It is true that at the present time he and she mingled in the same society; for he was the pet and plaything of the hour in the fashionable world; but he was not entirely blinded by that favor; he did not wholly mistake his position. And even supposing--a wild conjecture!--that she entertained an exceptional regard for him--that she could be induced to think of marrying him--would she be content that her husband remained on the stage and painted his face every evening and postured before the footlights? On the other hand, apart from the stage, what was he?--a mere nobody, not too-well instructed, having no particular gifts of wit or conversation, without even a well-filled purse--the meanest of qualifications--to recommend him. No doubt they might make a very pretty bargain between them; he might go to her and say,

"Let there be a sacrifice on both sides. I give up the theatre--I give up the applause, the popularity, the opportunities of making pleasant friendships--all the agreeable things of a stage-life; and you on your part give up your pride of birth, and, it may be, something of your place in society. It is a surrender on both sides. Let our motto be, 'All for love, and the world well lost.'" Yes, a very pretty bargain; but as he considered that he was now wandering into the region of romance--a region which he unhesitatingly scorned as having no relation with the facts of the world--he withdrew from that futile and useless and idle speculation, and took to thinking of Miss Honnor Cunyngham as she actually was, and wondering over which of the Aivron pools the proud-featured fisher-maiden would be casting at this moment.

And here, again, as the hours crept by, was something of a more practical nature to remind him of the now far-distant strath. In order to save him from the hurry of a twenty-minutes' railway-station dinner, Lady Adela had ordered a luncheon-basket to be packed for him, and her skill and forethought in this direction were unequalled, as many a little shooting-party had joyfully discovered. When Lionel leisurely began to explore the contents of the basket, he was proud to think that it was under her own immediate supervision that these things had been put together for him. There was some kind of sentimental interest attaching to the chicken and tongue and galantine, to the salad and biscuits and cake and what not; and he knew that it was no servant who had thought of filling a small tin canister with peaches and grapes, even as he knew that only Lady Adela was aware of his preference for the particular dry Sillery of which a half-bottle here lay in its covering of straw. As he took out the things and placed them on the seat beside him, he could have imagined that a pair of very gentle hands had arranged that repast for him. Then from this much too sumptuous banquet his mind wandered away back to the simple fare that old Robert used to bring forth from the fishing-bag, when Miss Honnor had taken her place among the bracken. Again he was with her in that little dell away among the solitudes of the hills, with the murmur of the Geinig coming up to them from the chasm below. The sunlight flashed on the rippling burn at their feet; the leaves of the birches trembled, and no more than trembled, in the still air; the deep, clear blue of the sky overhead told them to be in no hurry--they would have to wait till the afternoon for clouds. In the perfect silence (for the humming of the bees in the heather was hardly a sound at all) he could hear every soft modulation of her voice--though, to be sure, it was not lovers' talk that passed between them. "Mr. Moore, won't you have the rest of this soda-water?" or, "Yes, one of those brown biscuits, thank you," or, "Please, Mr. Moore, will you crush those bits of paper together and bury them in a hole? Nothing is so horrid as to come upon traces of a pic-nic on a hillside or along a river." Already those long days of constant companionship seemed to be becoming remote. It was the black night-journey between Inverness and Perth that had severed that shining time from the dull and commonplace hours he had now entered upon. He looked out of the window as the train thundered along--Preston--Wigan--Warrington--everywhere squalor, hurry, and noise, with a smoke-laden sky lowering over the sad and dismal country, different, indeed, from that other world he knew of, with its crimson slopes of heather, its laughing waters, its lonely solitudes in their noonday hush, the fair azure of the heavens becoming paler and paler towards the horizon until it touched the distant peaks and shoulders of Assynt. "Muss aus dem Thal jetzt scheiden, wo alles Lust und Klang;" but at least the memory of it would remain with him--a gracious possession.

The long afternoon wore on; Crewe, Stafford, Lichfield, Tamworth went by, as things in a dream, for his thoughts were far away. Sometimes, it is true, he would rebel against this morbid, restless, useless regret that had got hold of him; and he would valiantly attack the newspapers, of which he had an ample supply; but somehow or another the gray columns would fade away, and in their place would come a picture of Strathaivron Lodge, and the valley, and the river, and of an upturned face smiling a last farewell to him as the wagonette rolled on. Was it really only yesterday that he had seen her--talked with her--taken her hand? A yesterday that seemed years away! A vision already growing pale.

Well, London came at last, and all the hurry and bustle of Euston Station; and when he had got his things put on the top of a hansom, and given his address to the driver, there was an end of dreams. No more dreams were possible in this great vortex of a city into which he was now plunged--a turbulent, bewildering, vast black hole it seemed, and yet all afire with its blaze of windows and lamps. In Strathaivron the night was a gentle thing--it came stealing over the landscape as soft as sleep; it brought silence with it and a weight to tired eyes; it bade the woods be still; and to the lonely and darkened peaks of the hills it unveiled its canopy of trembling stars. But here there was no night--there was yellow fire, there were black phantoms unceasingly hurrying hither and thither, and a dull and constant roar more continuous than that of any sea. Tottenham Court Road after Strathaivron! But here at least was actuality; the time for sentimental sorrows, for dumb and hopeless regrets, was over and gone.

And who was the first to greet him on his return to London--who but Nina?--not in person, truly, but by a very graceful little message. The moment he went into his sitting-room his eye fell on the tiny nosegay lying on the table; and when he took the card from the accompanying envelope, he knew whose handwriting he would find there. "_Welcome home_--_from Nina!_"--that was all; but it was enough to make him rather remorseful. Too much had he neglected his old comrade and ally; he had scarcely ever written to her; she had been but little in his thoughts. Poor Nina!--It was a shame he should treat so faithful a friend so ill; he might have remembered her a little more had not his head been stuffed with foolish fancies. Well, as soon as he had changed his clothes and swallowed a bit of food he would jump into a hansom and go along to the New Theatre; he would be too late to judge of Nina's Grace Mainwaring as a whole, but he would have a little chat with her in the wings.

He was later in getting there than he had expected; indeed, as he made his way to the side of the stage, he discovered that his _locum tenens had just been recalled and was singing for the second time the well-known serenade, "The Starry Night"--and very well he sang it, too, confound him! Lionel said to himself. And here was Nina, standing on a small platform at the top of a short ladder, and waiting until the passionate appeal of her sweetheart (in the garden without) should be finished. She did not know of the presence of the new-comer. Lionel might have pulled her skirts, it is true, to apprise her of his being there; but that would not have been decorous; besides, he dared not distract her attention from the business of the stage. As soon as the last verse of the serenade had been sung, with its recurring refrain--

"Appear, my sweet, and shame the skies,
That have no splendor
That have no splendor like thine eyes"--

Nina--that is, Grace Mainwaring--carefully opened the casement at which she was supposed to be standing. A flood of moonlight--lime-light, rather--fell on her; but Lionel could not see how she looked the part, because her back was towards him. Very timidly Grace Mainwaring glanced this way and that, to make sure that no one could observe her; she took a rose from her hair, kissed it, and dropped it to her enraptured lover below. It was the end of the act. She had to come down quickly from the platform for the recall that resounded through the theatre; she did not chance to notice Lionel; she was led on and across the stage by Harry Thornhill, she bowing repeatedly and gracefully, he reserving his acknowledgment until he had handed her off. The reception both of them got was most gratifying; there could be no doubt of the sincerity of the applause of this crowded house.

"It seems to me I am not wanted here any more," Lionel said to himself. "Even Nina won't take any notice of the stranger."

The next moment Nina, who was coming across the stage, caught sight of him, and with a little cry of delight she ran towards him--yes, ran; for what cared she about carpenters and scene-shifters?--and caught both his hands in hers.

"Ah, Leo!" she cried, with glad-shining eyes. "Oh, so brown you are!--a hunter!--you are from the forests! And to-day you arrive--and already at the theatre--did you hear the duet--no? Ah, it is good to see you again, after so long!--I could laugh and cry together, it is such a joy to see you--and see you looking so well--"

"I say, Nina," he said, "that fellow Doyle sings tremendously well--he's ever so much improved--they'll be wanting him to take my place altogether and sending me off into the country."

"You, Leo!" she said, with a merry laugh, and still she regarded him with those delighted, welcoming eyes. "Ah, yes, it is likely! Ah, you will see what reception they will give you on Monday. Yes, it is in all the papers already--everywhere I see it; but come--Miss Girond and I, we have Miss Burgoyne's room for the present--you can wait for a few minutes, then I come out to talk to you."

Lionel (feeling very much like a stranger in this place) followed her into Miss Burgoyne's room, where he found Mlle. Girond only too ready to throw away the French novel she was reading. Nina had to disappear into the dressing-room; but this small boy-officer in the gay uniform, with his or her pretty gesticulation and charm of broken English, was quite willing to entertain Mr. Moore, though at times she would forget all about him and walk across to the full-length mirror and twist her small moustache. She chatted to him now and again; she returned to the mirror to touch her eyebrows and adjust her sash; she walked about or flicked the dust from her shining Wellingtons with a silk handkerchief; again she contemplated herself in the glass, and lightly sang,

"En debordant de Saint-Malo
Nos longs avirons battaient l'eau!"

Then she was called away for the beginning of the last act; and Nina, having made the change necessary for her next appearance, came out from the dressing-room and sat down.

"Oh, you are wicked, Leo," she said, as she contentedly crossed her hands in her lap and looked at the young man with those friendly eyes, "that you stayed away so long. I wished to sing the duet with you--but no--you begin Monday--and Miss Burgoyne comes back Monday--"

"Does she? I thought she was ordered a long rest."

Nina laughed.

"She sees in the papers that you come back--it is to be a great occasion--she says to herself, 'Will he sing with that Italian girl? No! Let my throat be well or ill, I am going back;' and she is coming, Leo. Never mind; I am to have the part of Clara; is it not an advancement? And everything is so much more comfortable now; Miss Girond has taken a room with Mrs. Grey; then we go home always together, and she has the use of the piano--"

"Miss Ross, please!" called a voice at the door.

"All right!" she called in reply.

"The chorus is on, miss."

"All right!"

"Ah," she continued, "it is so good to see you back, Leo; yes, yes? London was a stranger city when you were away--there was no one. And it is all you I have to thank, Leo, for my introduction here and my good-fortune--"

"Oh, nonsense, Nina!" he said. "What else could I have done? It isn't you who ought to thank me--it's Lehmann; I consider him precious lucky to have got a substitute for Miss Burgoyne so easily. So Miss Burgoyne is coming back on Monday?"

"Yes," said Nina, as she went to the door. "Shall I see you again, Leo, to-night?"

"Oh, I'm coming to hear you sing 'Now to the dance,'" he said, as he followed her out into the corridor and ascended with her into the wings.

This was a busy act for Nina; and the next time he had an opportunity of talking with her was after she had dressed herself in her bridal robes and was come up ready to go on the stage. Nina looked a little self-conscious when she first encountered him in this attire; perhaps she was afraid of his contrasting her appearance with that of Miss Burgoyne. If he did, it was certainly not to Nina's disadvantage. No; Nina was much more distinguished-looking and refined than the pert little doll-like bride represented by Miss Burgoyne; she wore the gorgeous costume of flowered white satin with ease and grace; and her portentous white wig, with its feathered brilliants and strings of pearls, seemed to add a greater depth and softness and mild lustre to her dark, expressive eyes. For an instant, as she came up to him, those beautiful, liquid eyes were turned to the ground.

"I did not choose anything, Leo," she said, modestly; "I have had to copy Miss Burgoyne."

"Well, there's a difference somehow, Nina," said he, "and I think Miss Burgoyne had better begin and copy you."

For a swift instant she raised her eyes; she was more than pleased. But she said nothing--indeed, she had now to go on the stage. And if he had contrasted her appearance favorably with that of Miss Burgoyne, he was now inclined to give a similar verdict with regard to her acting. It certainly wanted the self-confidence of long experience and also the emphasis and exaggeration of comedy-opera; it was not nearly impudent enough for the upper gallery; but it was graceful and natural to a degree that surprised him. As for her voice, that was incomparably better than Miss Burgoyne's; it was a fresh, sympathetic, finely modulated voice that had been uninjured by excessive training or excessive work. Lionel was quite proud of his _protegee_; unseen, here in the wings, he could applaud as loudly as any; if Nina did not hear, she must have been deaf. And when she came off at the end of the act--or, rather, immediately after the recall, which was as enthusiastic as the soul of actor or actress could desire--there was no stint to his praise; and Nina's heartfelt pleasure on hearing this warm commendation shone through all her stage make-up. He asked if he should wait to act as escort to Miss Girond and herself; but Nina said no; Miss Girond and she went home every night by themselves in a four-wheeled cab; she knew he must be tired after his long journey; and he must go away and get to bed at once. So Lionel shook hands with her and left the theatre, and walked carelessly and absently home to his lodgings in Piccadilly.

Well, he was glad to find his old friend and comrade, Nina, getting on so well and so proud of her success and looking so charming in her new part; and he guessed that she must have written to the grumbling old Pandiani, and sent photographs of herself as Grace Mainwaring to Andrea and Carmela and her other Neapolitan friends. But it was not of Nina that he thought long, as he lay in the easy-chair and smoked, and listened to the heavy murmur of the streets without. He had not got used to London yet. The theatre seemed to him a great, glaring thing; the lime-light an impertinent sham; even the applause of the delighted audience somehow brutal and offensive. There was no repose, no reticence, no self-respect and modesty about the whole affair; it was all too violent; a fanfaronade; a coarse and ostentatious make-believe, that seemed a kind of insult to a quiet mind. He turned away from it altogether. His fancies had fled to the North again; the long railway journey was annihilated; again he was driving out to the still and beautiful valley, where those kind friends were standing at the door of the lodge, fluttering a white welcome to him. He goes down the steep hillside; he crosses the stream at the Horse's Drink; he reaches the hall-door and is shaking hands with this one and that. And if the tall, proud maiden with the fine forehead and the clear, calm hazel eyes is not among this group, be sure she will be here in the evening to add her greeting to the rest. Oh, to think of that next morning--the sweet air blowing down from the hills--the silver lights among the purple clouds--the Aivron swinging along its gravelly bed, a deep, clear bronze where the sunlight strikes the shallows! Farther and farther into the solitudes these two idly wander--away from human ken--until the dogs in the kennels are no longer heard, nor is there even a black-cock crowing in the woods; nothing but the hum of the bees, and the whisper of the birch branches, and the hushed, low thunder of the Geinig falls. He could almost hear it now; or was not the continuous murmur that dazed and dinned his ears a sadly different sound--the muffled roar of cabs and carriages along Piccadilly, bearing home this teeming population from the blare and glare of the crowded theatres? A different sound indeed! He had come into another world; and the Aivron and Geinig, far away, were alone with the darkness and the stars.

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