Full Online Books
BOOK CATEGORIES
Authors Authors Short Stories Short Stories Long Stories Long Stories Funny Stories Funny Stories Love Stories Love Stories Stories For Kids Stories For Kids Poems Poems Essays Essays Nonfictions Nonfictions Plays Plays Folktales Folktales Fairy Tales Fairy Tales Fables Fables Learning Kitchen Learning Kitchen
LINKS
Valid XHTML 1.0 Transitional Free Classified Website Without Registration Free Classified Website Daniel Company
Twitter Twitter Add book
donate
Full Online Book HomeLong StoriesPrince Fortunatus - Chapter 14. A Magnanimous Rival
Famous Authors (View All Authors)
Prince Fortunatus - Chapter 14. A Magnanimous Rival Post by :webbie Category :Long Stories Author :William Black Date :May 2012 Read :815

Click below to download : Prince Fortunatus - Chapter 14. A Magnanimous Rival (Format : PDF)

Prince Fortunatus - Chapter 14. A Magnanimous Rival

CHAPTER XIV. A MAGNANIMOUS RIVAL

That Monday night at the New Theatre was a great occasion; for, although there were a few people (themselves not of much account, perhaps) who went about saying there was no one in London, an enormous house welcomed back to the stage those well-known favorites, Miss Burgoyne and Mr. Lionel Moore. And what had become of the Aivron and the Geinig now?--their distant murmurs were easily drowned in the roar of enthusiasm with which the vast audience--a mass of orange-hued faces they seemed across the footlights--greeted the prima-donna and the popular young baritone. Nina was here also, in her subordinate part. And all that Miss Burgoyne could do, on the stage and off the stage, to attract his attention, did not hinder Lionel from watching, with the most affectionate interest, the manner in which his _protegee_, his old comrade Nina, was acquitting herself. Clara was perhaps a little bit too eager and anxious; she anticipated her cues; her parted lips seemed to repeat what was being said to her; lights and shadows of expression chased each other over the mobile features and brightened or darkened her eloquent eyes; and in her passages with Grace Mainwaring she was most effusive, though that other young lady maintained a much more matter-of-fact demeanor.

"Capital, Nina! Very well done!" Lionel exclaimed (to himself) in the wings. "You're on the right track. It is easier to tone down than to brace up. Don't be afraid--keep it going--you'll grow business-like soon enough."

Here Clara had to come tripping off the stage, and Lionel had to go on; he had no opportunity of speaking to her until the end of the act, when they chanced to meet in the long glazed corridor.

"You're a bit nervous to-night, Nina," he said, in a kindly way.

"But so as to be bad?" she said, quickly and anxiously.

"It was very well done indeed--it was splendid--but you almost take too much pains. Most girls with a voice like yours would merely sing a part like that and think the management was getting enough. I suppose you don't know yourself that you keep repeating what the other person is saying to you--as if he weren't getting on fast enough--"

Nina paused for a second.

"Yes, I understand--I understand what you mean," she said, rather slowly; then she continued, in her usual way, "But to-night, Leo, I am anxious--oh, there are so many things!--this is the first time I act with Miss Burgoyne; and I wish them not to say I am a stick--for your sake, Leo--you brought me here--I must do what I can."

"Oh, Nina, you don't half value yourself!" he said. "You think far too little of yourself. You're a most wonderful creature to find in a theatre. I consider that Lehmann is under a deep obligation to me for giving him the chance of engaging you. By the way, have you heard what he means to do on Sunday week?"

"No--not at all!"

"Saturday week is the 400th night," he continued; "and to celebrate it, Lehmann is going to give the principal members of the company, and a few friends, I suppose, a dinner at the Star and Garter at Richmond. Haven't you heard?--but of course he'll send you a card of invitation. The worst of it is that it is no use driving down at this time of the year; I suppose we shall have to get there just as we please, and meet in the room; but I don't know how all the proper escorts are to be arranged. I was thinking, Nina, I could take you and Miss Girond down, if you will let me."

There was a bright, quick look of pleasure in Nina's eyes--but only for an instant.

"No, no, Leo," she said, with lowered lashes. "That is not right. Miss Burgoyne and you are the two principal people in the theatre--you are on the stage equals--off the stage also you are her friend--you must take her to Richmond, Leo."

"Miss Burgoyne?"

But here the door of Miss Burgoyne's room was suddenly opened, and the voice of the young lady herself was heard, in unmistakably angry tones:

"Oh, bother your headache! I suppose it was your headache made you split my blue jacket in two, and I suppose it was your headache made you smash my brooch last night--I wonder what some women were born for!" And therewithal the charming Grace Mainwaring made her appearance; and not a word--hardly a look--did the indignant small lady choose to bestow on either Lionel or Nina as she brushed by them on her way up to the wings.

Yes, here he was in the theatre again, with all its trivial distractions and interests, and also its larger excitements and ambitions and rewards, not the least of which was the curious fascination he found in holding a great audience hushed and enthralled, listening breathlessly to every far-reaching, passionate note. Then his reappearance on the stage brought him a renewal of all the friendly little attentions and hospitalities that had been interrupted by his leaving for Scotland; for if certain of his fashionable acquaintance were still away at their country houses, there were plenty of others who had returned to town. Club life had begun again, too. But most of all, at this time, Lionel was disposed to enjoy that quiet and gentle companionship with Nina, which was so simple and frank and unreserved. He could talk to her freely, on all subjects save one--and that he was trying to put away from himself in these altered circumstances. He and she had a community of interests; there was never any lack of conversation--whether he were down in Sloane Street, drinking tea and trying over new music with her, or walking in with Miss Girond and her to the theatre through the now almost leafless Green Park. Sometimes, when she was grown petulant and fractious, he had to scold her into good-humor; sometimes she had seriously to remonstrate with him; but it was all given and taken in good part. He was never embarrassed or anxious in her society; he was happy and content and careless, as she appeared to be also. He did not trouble to invent any excuse for calling upon her; he went down to Sloane Street just whenever he had a spare half-hour or hour; and if the morning was bright, or even passable (for it was November now, and even a tolerable sort of day was welcome), and if Miss Girond did not wish to go out or had some other engagement, Nina and he would set off for a stroll by themselves, up into Kensington Gardens, it might be, or along Piccadilly, or through the busy crowds of Oxford Street; while they looked at the shops and the passers-by, and talked about the theatre and the people in it or about old days in Naples. There was no harm; and they thought no harm. Sometimes he could hear her hum to herself a fragment of one of the old familiar canzoni--"Antoniella Antonia!" or "Voca, voca ncas' a mano"--so light-hearted was she; and occasionally they said a word to each other in Neapolitanese--but this was seldom, for Nina considered the practice to be most reprehensible. What she had chiefly to take him to task for, however, was his incurable and inordinate extravagance--wherever she was concerned especially.

"Leo, you think it is a compliment?" she said to him, earnestly. "No, not at all? I am sorry. Why should you buy for me this, that, whatever strikes your eye, and no matter the price? I have everything I desire. Why to me?--why, if you must give, why not to your cousin you tell me of, who is so kind to the sick children in boarding them in the country? There, now, is something worthy, something good, something to be praised--"

"Oh, preach away, Nina!" he answered, with a laugh. "But I've contributed to Francie's funds until she won't take anything more from me--not at present. But why do you always talk about saving and saving? You are an artist, Nina, and you put such value on money!"

"But an artist grows old, Leo," she said.

"Perhaps you have been saving a little yourself, Nina?" he said, at a venture.

"Oh, yes, I have, Leo, a little," she answered, rather shamefacedly.

"What for?" he made bold to ask.

"Oh, how do I know?" she said, with downcast eyes. "Many things might happen: is it not safer? No, Leo, you must not say I love money for itself; it is not fair to me; but--but if a dear friend is ill--if a doctor says to him, 'Suspend all work and go away to Capri, to Algeria, to Eg--Egippo'--is it right?--and perhaps he has been indiscreet--he has been too generous to all his companions--he is in need--then you say, 'Here, take mine--it is between friends.' Then you are proud to have money, are you not?"

"I'm afraid, Nina, that's what they call a parable," said he, darkly. "But I am sure of this, that if that person were to be taken ill, and were so very poor, and were to go to Nina for help, I don't think he would have to fear any refusal. And then, as you say, Nina, you would be proud to have the money--just as I know you would be ready to give it."

It was rarely that Nina blushed, but now her pretty, pale face fairly burned with conscious pleasure; and he hardly dared to look, yet he fancied there was something of moisture in the long, dark lashes, while she did not speak for some seconds. Perhaps he had been too bold in interpreting her parable.

Yes, there was no doubt that this spoiled favorite of the public, who lived amid the excitements, the flatteries, the gratifications of the moment, with hardly a thought of the future, was dreadfully extravagant, though it was rarely on himself that he lavished his reckless expenditure. Nina's protests were of no avail; whenever he saw anything pretty or odd or interesting, that he thought would please her, it was purchased there and then, to be given to her on the first opportunity. One day he was going through Vigo Street, and noticed in a shop-window a pair of old-fashioned, silver-gilt loving-cups--those that interclasp; and forthwith he went in and bought them: "I'll take those; how much are they" being his way of bargaining. In the afternoon he carried them down to Sloane Street.

"Here, Nina, I've brought you a little present; and I'll have to show you how to use it, or you would never guess what it is for."

When he unrolled his pretty gift out of the pink tissue paper, Nina threw up her hands in despair.

"Oh, it is too much of a folly!" she exclaimed. "Why do you do it, Leo? What is the use of old silver to me?"

"Well, it's nice to look at," said he. "And it will help to furnish your house when you get married, Nina."

"Ah, Leo," said she, "if you would only think about yourself! It is always to-day, to-morrow, with you: never the coming years--"

"Yes, I know all about that," he interposed. "Now I'm going to show you how these are used. They're loving-cups, you know, Nina--"

"Loving-cups?" she repeated, rather timidly.

"Yes? and I will show you how the ceremony is performed. Now, will you get me some lemonade, Nina, and a little of the vermouth that I sent to Mrs. Grey?"

She went and got these things for him; and when she returned he poured into one of the tiny goblets about a teaspoonful of the vermouth, filling it up with the lemonade; then he put the other cup on the top of this one, so that they formed a continuous vessel; he shook the contents; then he separated the cups, leaving about half the liquid in each, and one of them he handed to Nina, retaining the other.

"We drink at the same time, Nina--with any kind of wishes you like."

She glanced towards him--and then shyly lowered her eyes--as she raised the small cup to her lips. What were her wishes? Perhaps he did not care to know; perhaps she would not have cared to tell.

"You see, it is a simple ceremony, Nina," he said, as he put the little goblet on the table again. "But at the same time it is very confidential. I mean, you wouldn't ask everybody to go through it with you--it would hardly, for example, be quite circumspect for you to ask any young man you didn't know very well--"

"Leo!"

The sound of her voice startled him; there were tears of indignation in it; he looked up and found she had grown suddenly pale.

"You," she said, with quivering lips, "you and I, Leo--we have drunk together out of these--and you think I allow any one else--any one living in the world--to drink out of them after that?--I would rather have them dashed to pieces and thrown into the sea!"

Her vehemence surprised him--and might have set any other person thinking; but he was used to Nina's proud and wayward moods; so he merely went on to tell her that there was nothing, after all, so very solemn in the ceremony of drinking from a loving-cup; and then he asked her whether she ought not to call Miss Girond, for it was about time they were going down to the theatre.

Of course the forthcoming dinner that Mr. Lehmann was about to give at the Star and Garter created quite a stir behind the scenes, where the routine of life is much more monotonous than the people imagine who sit in the stalls and regard the antics of the merry folk on the stage. There were all kinds of rumors and speculations as to who was going with whom, as to the number and quality of the visitors, and as to the possibility of the manager presenting each of his lady-guests with a little souvenir in honor of the occasion. So when Lionel was summoned to Miss Burgoyne's room one evening, he was not surprised to find her begin to talk of the following Sunday.

"Will you make yourself some tea, Mr. Moore?" she said, from the inner room. "There's some cake on the top of the piano. Then you can bring a chair to the curtain, and I'll talk to you--for I'm not quite finished yet."

He drew a chair to the little opening in the curtain, where he could hear what she had to say, and answer, without any indiscreet prying.

"I am at your service, Miss Grace," said he, lightly.

"How are you going down to Richmond on Sunday?" she asked at once.

"By train, I suppose."

There was a moment's silence--perhaps she was waiting for him to ask a similar question.

"Lord Denysfort is going to drive down," said the voice in the inner room.

"Lord Denysfort!" he said, contemptuously. "What she is the attraction now? I don't like that kind of thing; it gets the theatre a bad name. If I were Lehmann, I wouldn't have a single stranger allowed in the wings."

"Not unless they were your own friends," said the unseen young lady, complacently. "Now I know you're scowling. But I believe you are quite wrong. Lord Denysfort is simply a business acquaintance of Mr. Lehmann's--there are money matters between them, and that kind of thing; and when he was asked to be present at the dinner, it was quite natural that he should offer to drive some of us down. You have no particular detestation of lords, have you? What has become of the tall, handsome young man you brought to us at Henley--the lazy man--and didn't he come to the theatre one night?"

"Lord Rockminster?--he is in Scotland still, I believe."

"Somebody ought to put fireworks in his coat-tail pockets; but he's awfully good-looking--he's just frightfully handsome. He quite fluttered me."

"I say, Miss Burgoyne," Lionel interposed, quickly, "there's a sister-in-law of his coming to town shortly, on her way to Brighton--a Miss Cunyngham--and I should like to have her mother and herself come behind for a little while, some night they were at the theatre--it is interesting to those people, you know--"

"You are the one who would have no strangers in the wings!" said the voice.

"And I want you to be civil to them--"

"Tea and cake? All right. But you haven't told me how you are going down to Richmond."

"Yes, I have. I'm going down by train, most likely."

"Oh, by train. I suppose I ought to accept Lord Denysfort's invitation."

"What's the good of driving at this time of year?" he asked. "It will be pitch dark."

"There will be a full moon, they say."

"You won't see it because of the fog. In fact, the whole thing is a mistake. The dinner should have been given in London."

"Oh, I think it will be great fun dining at a half-deserted hotel--it will be ghostly--and I'm going out on the terrace, if it is as black as midnight."

"And what are you going to do with your gallant warrior--with the furious fire-eater who wanted to bring my humble career to a premature end?"

"I don't know who you mean," said the voice, but with no great decision.

"You don't remember saving my life, then?" he asked. "Have you forgotten the duel that was to have been fought before I went to Scotland, and how you stepped in to protect me? If it hadn't been for you, I might have fallen on the gory field of battle--"

"It's all very well for you to mock," said she, "but there's nothing that young man wouldn't do for my sake; and I don't see anything to laugh at in true esteem and affection. They're too rare nowadays. I know one or two gentlemen who might be improved by a little more devotion and--and chivalry. But it's all persiflage nowadays. Everything is _connu_--"

"Behind the scenes, perhaps; but it's different when you import the fresh, the ingenuous element from the outer world," said he (but what interest had he in the discussion?--he did not wear his heart on his sleeve for Miss Burgoyne to peck at). "Aren't you going to take Mr. Miles down with you?"

"Poor Percy!" said the now muffled voice (perhaps she had a pin in her teeth, or perhaps she was still further touching-up her lips), "I suppose he would come if he were invited; but he doesn't know any of them."

"Why don't you ask Lehmann for an invitation for him?"

"What do you mean, Mr. Moore?" demanded the voice--sharply enough now.

"Oh, nothing."

"I consider you are very impertinent. Why should I ask for an invitation for Mr. Miles? What would that imply? Do you suppose I particularly wish him to be there?"

"Oh, I didn't mean to offend," Lionel said, quite humbly. "Only--you see--the other night you showed me that ingenious dodge of covering the ring you wear with a bit of white india-rubber--and--and I thought it might be an engagement ring--worn on that finger--"

"Then you're quite wrong, Mr. Clever," said the voice. "That ring was given me by a very dear friend, a very, very dear friend--I won't tell you whether a he or a she--and it fits that finger; but all the same I don't want the public to think I am engaged. So there--for your wonderful guessing!"

"I'm sure I beg your pardon," said he; "I didn't mean to be inquisitive."

But at this moment the intervening curtains were thrown open, and here was Grace Mainwaring, in full panoply of white satin and pearls and powdered hair. She was followed by her maid. She went to the long mirror in this larger room, and began to put the finishing touches to the set of her costume and also to her make-up. Then she told Jane to go and get the inner room tidied; and when the maid had disappeared she turned to the young baritone.

"Mr. Moore," said she, rather pointedly, "you are not very communicative."

"In what way?"

"I understand you are going to take Miss Ross and Miss Girond down to Richmond on Sunday; I don't see myself why you should conceal it."

"I never thought of concealing it!" he exclaimed, with a little surprise. "Why should a trifling arrangement like that be concealed--or mentioned either?"

Miss Burgoyne regarded herself in the mirror again, and touched her white wig here and there and the black beauty-spots on her cheek and chin.

"I have been told," she remarked, rather scornfully, "that gentlemen are fond of the society of chorus-girls--I suppose they enjoy a certain freedom there that they don't meet elsewhere."

"Neither Miss Ross nor Miss Girond is a chorus-girl," he said--though he wasn't going to lose his temper over nothing.

"They have both sung in the chorus," she retorted, snappishly.

"That is neither here nor there," he said. "Why, what does it matter how we go down, when we shall all meet there on a common footing? It was an obviously simple arrangement--Sloane Street is on my way, whether I go by road or rail--"

"Oh, pray don't make any apology to _me--I am not interested in the question," she observed, in a most lofty manner, as she still affected to be examining her dress in the mirror.

"I wasn't making any apology to anybody," he said, bluntly.

"Or explanation," she continued, in the same tone. "You seem to have a strange fancy for foreigners, Mr. Moore; and I suppose they are glad to be allowed to practice talking with any one who can speak decent English."

"Nina--I mean Miss Ross--is an old friend of mine," he said, just beginning to chafe a little. "It is a very small piece of courtesy that I should offer to see her safely down to Richmond, when she is a stranger, with hardly any other acquaintance in London--"

"But pray don't make any excuse to _me_--what have _I to do with it?" Miss Burgoyne said, sweetly. And then, as she gathered up her long train and swung it over her arm, she added, "Will you kindly open the door for me, Mr. Moore?" And therewith she passed out and along the corridor and up into the wings--he attending her, for he also was wanted in this scene.

Well, Miss Burgoyne might drive down to Richmond with Lord Denysfort or with any one else; he was not going to forsake Nina. On the afternoon appointed, just as it was dark, he called at the house in Sloane Street, and found the two young ladies ready, with nothing but their bonnets to put on. Both of them, he thought, were very prettily dressed; but Nina's costume had a somewhat severe grace, and, indeed, rather comported with Nina's demeanor towards this little French chatterbox, whom she seemed to regard with a kind of grave and young-matronly consideration and forbearance. When they had got into the brougham which was waiting outside for them and had started away for Putney Bridge, it was Mlle. Girond who was merry and excited and talkative; Nina only listened, in good-humored amusement. Mlle. Girond had never been to Richmond, but she had heard of it; she knew all about the beautiful view and the terrace overlooking the river, and she was promising herself the romance and charm of a stroll in the moonlight.

"I don't see much sign of that full moon as yet," Lionel said to her, peering through the window of the brougham, "but I suppose the glare of the gas-lamps would hide it in any case. However, there's a good deal of fog always along the Thames at this time of year; don't be disappointed, Miss Girond, if you have to remain in-doors. Indeed, it is far too cold to go wandering about among statues in the moonlight."

"And if in the dark, they will be all the more mysterieuz, do you not think?" said Mlle. Girond, eagerly. "And there will be surprises--perhaps a laugh, perhaps a shriek--if you run against some one."

"Oh, no, I am not going to allow anything of that kind," said he. "I have to look after you young ladies, and you must conduct yourselves with the strictest decorum."

"Yes, for Nina," Mlle. Girond cried, gayly. "That is for Nina--for me, no! I will have some amusement, or I will run away. Who gave you control of me, monsieur? I thank you, but I do not wish it."

"Estelle!" said Nina, in tones of grave reproach.

"Ah!" said the wilful young lady, and she put out the tips of her fingers as though she would shake away from her these too-serious companions. "You have become English, Nina. Very well. If I have no more gay companion, I go out and seek a statue--I beckon to him--I defy him--ah! he freezes me--he nods his head--it is the Commendatore!" And then she sang, in portentous bass notes--

"Don Giovanni, a cenar teco
M' invitasti--e son venuto!"


Lionel let down the window.

"Do you see that, Miss Girond?"

Far away, above the blue mists and the jet-black trees (for they were out in the country by this time), hung a small, opaque disk of dingy orange.

"It is the moon, Leo!" cried Nina. "Ah, but so dull!"

"That is the fog lying over the low country," he said; "it may be clearer when we get to the top of the hill. It is to be hoped so, at all events. Fancy a theatrical company going out to a rustic festivity and not provided with a better moon than that!"

However, when they finally reached the Star and Garter, they had forgotten about the moon and the aspect of the night; for here were the wide steps and the portico all ablaze with a friendly yellow glow; and just inside stood Mr. Lehmann, with the most shining shirt-front ever beheld, receiving his guests as they arrived. Here, too, was Lord Denysfort, a feeble-looking young man, with huge ears and no chin to speak of, who, however, had shown some sense in engaging a professional whip to drive the four-in-hand down through the fog. Of course there was a good deal of bustle and hurry and confusion--friends anxious about the non-arrival of other friends and so forth--in the midst of which Lionel said to his two companions,

"Dinner will be a long time yet. The ladies who have driven down will be making themselves beautiful for another quarter of an hour. Suppose we go out on the balcony, and see whether any of Miss Girond's statues are visible."

They agreed to this, for they had not taken off their cloaks; so he led them along the hall and round by a smaller passage to a door which he opened; they got outside, and found themselves in the hushed, still night. Below them, on the wide terrace, they could make out the wan, gray, plaster pillars and pediments and statues among the jet-black shrubs; but beyond that all was chaos; the river and the wooded valley were shrouded in a dense mist, pierced only here and there by a small orange ray--some distant window or lamp. They wandered down the wide steps; they crossed to the parapet; they gazed into that great unknown gulf, in which they could descry nothing but one or two spectral black trees, their topmost branches coming up into the clearer air. Then they walked along to the southern end of the terrace; and here they came in sight of the moon--a far-distant world on fire it seemed to be, especially when the sombre golden radiance touched a passing tag of cloud and changed it into lurid smoke. All the side of the vast building looking towards them was dark--save for one window that burned red.

"Is that where we dine?" asked Nina, as they returned.

"Oh, no," Lionel answered. "Our room is at the end of the passage by which we came out--I suppose the shutters are closed. I fancy that is the coffee-room."

"I am going to have a peep in," Mlle. Girond said, as they ascended the steps again; and when they had reached the balcony she went along to the window, leaving her companions behind, for they did not share in this childish curiosity. But the next moment little Capitaine Crepin came back, in a great state of excitement.

"Come, come, come!" she said, breathlessly. "Ah, the poor young gentleman--all alone!--my heart feels for him--Mr. Moore, it is piteous."

"Well, what have you discovered now?" said Lionel, indifferently, for he was getting hungry.

"Come and see--come and see! All alone--no one to say a word--"

Lionel and Nina followed their eager guide along the dark balcony, until they had got near the brilliant red window. They looked in. The room was bright with crimson-shaded lamps, and its solitary occupant they made out clearly enough; it was Mr. Percival Miles--in evening dress, standing before the fireplace, gazing into the coals, his hands in his pockets.

"Ah," said Nina, as she quickly drew back, "that is the young gentleman who sometimes waits for Miss Burgoyne, is it not, Leo? And he is all by himself. It is hard."

"You think it is hard, Nina?" Lionel said, turning to her, as the three spies simultaneously withdrew.

"Oh, yes, yes!" Nina exclaimed.

"Well, you see," continued Lionel, as he opened the glass door to let his companions re-enter the hotel, "an outsider who comes skylarking after an actress, and finds her surrounded by her professional friends and her professional interests, has to undergo a good deal of tribulation. That poor fellow has come down here to dine all by himself, merely to be near her. But, mind you, it was that same fellow who wanted to kill me."

"He, kill you!" Nina said, scornfully. "You allowed him to live--yes?"

"But I don't bear any malice. No, I don't. I'm going to make that boy just the very happiest young man there is in the kingdom of Great Britain this evening."

"Ah, I know, I know!" exclaimed Nina, delightedly.

"Oh, no, you don't know. You don't know anything about it. What you and Miss Girond have got to do now is to go into the cloak-room and leave your things, and afterwards I'll meet you in the dining-room."

"Yes, but you are going to Mr. Lehmann!" said Nina, with a laugh. "I do not know?--yes, I do know. Ah, that is generous of you, Leo--that is noble."

"Noble?--trash!" he said; and he hurried these young people along to the disrobing-room and left them there. Then he went to the manager, who was still in the hall.

"I say," he began, without more ado, "there's a young friend of mine in this hotel whom I wish you'd invite to dine with us."

The manager looked rather startled--then hesitated--then stroked his waxed moustache.

"I--I presume a gentleman friend?"

"Yes, of course," said Lionel, angrily. "It's a Percival Miles--why, you must have heard of Sir Barrington Miles, and this is his eldest son, though he's quite a young fellow--"

"Oh, very well; oh, yes, certainly!" said Mr. Lehmann, apparently very much relieved. "Will you ask him?"

"Well, no, I can't exactly," Lionel said. "But I will send him a formal note in your name--'Mr. Lehmann presents his compliments'--may I?"

"All right; but dinner will be served almost directly. Would you mind telling the waiters to lay another cover?"

About five minutes thereafter, when the company had swarmed into the dining-room--most of them chatting and laughing, but the more business-like looking for their allotted places at table--Mr. Percival Miles put in an appearance, very shy and perhaps a little bewildered, for he knew not to whom he owed this invitation. Lionel had got a seat for him between Mlle. Girond and Mr. Carey, the musical conductor; if he could, and if he had dared, he would have placed him next Miss Burgoyne; but Miss Burgoyne was at the head of the table, between Lord Denysfort and Mr. Lehmann--besides, that fiery young lady might have taken sudden cause of offence. As it was, the young gentleman could gaze upon her from afar; and she had bowed to him--with some surprise clearly showing in her face--just as their eyes had met on his coming into the room. Lionel was next to Nina; he had arranged that.

It was a protracted banquet, and a merry one withal; there was a perfect Babel of noise; and the excellent old custom of drinking healths with distant friends was freely adopted. Miss Girond did her best to amuse the good-looking boy whom she had been instrumental in rescuing from his solitary dinner in the coffee-room; but he did not respond as he ought to have done; from time to time he glanced wistfully towards the head of the table, where Miss Burgoyne was gayly chatting with Lord Denysfort. As for Nina, Nina was very quiet, but very much interested, as her dark, expressive eyes eloquently showed.

"It is so beautiful, Leo," she said. "Every one looks so well; is it the light reflected from the table?" And then she said, in a lower tone, "Do you see Miss Burgoyne, Leo? She is acting all the time. She is acting to the whole table."

"That Albanian jacket of hers is gorgeous enough, anyway," Lionel responded; he was not much interested apparently in the question of Miss Burgoyne's behavior.

When dinner had been some little time over, the women-folk went away and got wraps and shawls, and the whole company passed outside, the men lighting their cigars at the top of the steps. The heavens overhead were now perfectly clear; the moonlight shone full on the long terrace, with its parapets and pedestals and plaster figures, while all the world below was shut away in a dense fog. Indeed, as the various groups idly walked about or stood and talked--their shadows sharply cut as out of ebony on the white stone--the whole scene was most extraordinary; for it appeared as though these people were the sole occupants of some region in cloud-land--a clear-shining region raised high above the forgotten earth.

"Lehmann is lucky," Lionel said to Nina. "I thought his moonlight effect was going to be a failure."

Miss Girond came up, in an eager and excited fashion.

"Nina!"

"What is it, Estelle?"

"Monsieur of the pretty face," she said, in a whisper, "oh, so sad he was all dinner!--regarding Miss Burgoyne, and she coquetting, oh, frightful, frightful!--but it is all right now--he was at the door when we come out--he takes her hand--'How you do, Miss Burgoyne?'--'Oh, how you do, Mr. Miles?'--and he leads her away before she can go to any one else. And there--away down there--do you see them? He has compensation, do you think?"

She drew Nina a little aside, and sang into her ear--

"--Ce soir, as-tu vu
La fille a notre maitre,
D'un air resolu
Guettant a sa fenetre?
Eh bien! qu'en dis tu?
--Je dis que j'ai tout vu,
Mais je n'ai rien cru;
Je l'aime, je l'aime,
Je l'aime quand meme!"

and then she broke into a malicious laugh.

"What are you two conspiring about, now?" Lionel asked--from the bench on which he had carelessly seated himself, the better to enjoy his cigar.

"You must know the consequence of doing a good action, Leo," Nina said to him. "Do you see the black bushes--yonder--and the two figures? Estelle says it is Miss Burgoyne and the young gentleman who would have been all alone but that you intercede. Is he not owing a great deal to you?"

"Well, Nina, if there is any gratitude in woman's bosom, Miss Burgoyne ought to be indebted to me too. She has got her pretty dear. I dare say he would have managed to procure a little interview with her, in some surreptitious way, in any case--I dare say that was his intention in coming down; but now that he is one of the party, one of the guests, she can talk to him before every one. And since I have been the means of bringing the pair of turtle-doves together, I hope they're happy."

"Ah, Leo, you do not understand," Nina said to him--for Miss Girond was now talking to Mr. Carey, who had come up.

"I don't understand what?"

"You do not understand Miss Burgoyne," said Nina.

"What don't I understand about her, then?"

Nina shook her head.

"Why should I say? You will not believe. Perhaps she is grateful to you for bringing in that young man--yes, perhaps--but if she would rather have yourself to go and talk with her and be her companion before all those people? Oh, you do not believe? No, you are too modest--as she is vain and jealous. All during the dinner she was playing coquette, openly, for every one to see; Estelle says it was to pique the young man who came from the other room; no, Leo, it was not--it was meant for you!"

"Oh, nonsense, Nina!--I wasn't thinking anything about her!"

"Does she think that, Leo?" Nina said to him, gently. "Ah, you do not know that woman. She is clever; she is cunning; she wishes to have the fame of being associated with you--even in a photograph for the shop-windows; and you are so blind! The duel?--yes, she would have liked that, too, for the newspapers to speak about it, and the public to talk, and her name and yours together; but then she says, 'No, he will owe more to me if I interfere and get an apology for him,' It is one way or the other way--anything to win your attention--that you should care for her--and that you should show it to the world--"

"Nina, Nina," said he, "you want to make me outrageously vain. Do you imagine she had a single thought for me when she had Lord Denysfort to carry on with--he hasn't much in his head, poor devil! but a title goes a long way in the theatrical world--and when she could practise on the susceptibilities of her humble adorer who was further down the table? Oh, I fancy Miss Burgoyne had enough to occupy herself with this evening without thinking of me. She was quite busy."

"Ah, you do not understand, Leo," Nina said. "But some day you may understand--if Miss Burgoyne still finds you indifferent, and becomes angry. But before that, she will try much--"

"Nina!"

"You will see, Leo!" Nina said; and that was all she could say just then, for Mr. Lehmann came up to take the general vote as to whether they would rather have tea out there in the moonlight or return to the dining-room.

But any doubt as to the manner in which Miss Burgoyne regarded his intercession on behalf of Mr. Percival Miles was removed, and that in a most summary fashion, by the young lady herself. As they were about to leave the hotel, the men were standing about in the hall, chatting at haphazard or lighting a fresh cigar, while they waited for the women-folk to get ready. Lionel saw Miss Burgoyne coming along the corridor, and was glad of the chance of saying good-night to her before she got on to the front of Lord Denysfort's drag. But it was not good-night that Miss Burgoyne had in her mind.

"Mr. Moore," she said, when she came up, and she spoke in a low, clear, incisive voice that considerably startled him. "I am told it was through you that that boy was invited to the dinner to-night."

He looked at her in amazement.

"Well, what then?" he exclaimed. "What was the objection? I thought he was a friend of yours. That boy?--that boy is a sufficiently important person, surely--heir to the Petmansworth estates--why I should have thought--"

She interrupted him.

"I consider it a gross piece of impertinence," she said, haughtily. "I suppose you thought you were conferring a favor on _me_! How dared you assume that any one--that any one--wished him to be present in that room?"

She turned proudly away from him, without waiting for his reply.

"Lord Denysfort, here I am," said she; and the chinless young man with the large ears gave her his arm and conducted her down the steps. Lionel looked after her--bewildered.

If you like this book please share to your friends :
NEXT BOOKS

Prince Fortunatus - Chapter 15. 'Let The Strucken Deer Go Weep.' Prince Fortunatus - Chapter 15. "Let The Strucken Deer Go Weep."

Prince Fortunatus - Chapter 15. 'Let The Strucken Deer Go Weep.'
CHAPTER XV. "LET THE STRUCKEN DEER GO WEEP."But if Lionel regarded this constant association with Nina--this unreserved discussion of all their private affairs--even the sort of authority and guidance he exercised over her at times--as so simple and natural a thing that it was unnecessary to pause and ask whither it might tend, what about Nina herself? She was quite alone in England; she had more regard for the future than he had; what if certain wistful hopes, concealed almost from herself, had sprung up amid all this intimate and frankly affectionate companionship?One morning she and Estelle were walking in to
PREVIOUS BOOKS

Prince Fortunatus - Chapter 13. A New Experience Prince Fortunatus - Chapter 13. A New Experience

Prince Fortunatus - Chapter 13. A New Experience
CHAPTER XIII. A NEW EXPERIENCEWas 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,
NEXT 10 BOOKS | PREVIOUS 10 BOOKS | RANDOM 10 BOOKS
LEAVE A COMMENT