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Full Online Book HomeLong StoriesPrince Fortunatus - Chapter 15. "Let The Strucken Deer Go Weep."
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Prince Fortunatus - Chapter 15. 'Let The Strucken Deer Go Weep.' Post by :pauli Category :Long Stories Author :William Black Date :May 2012 Read :1349

Click below to download : Prince Fortunatus - Chapter 15. "Let The Strucken Deer Go Weep." (Format : PDF)

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 Regent Street, to examine proofs of certain photographs that had been taken of them both (for Clara figured in the shop-windows now, as well as Capitaine Crepin). Nina was very merry and vivacious on this sufficiently bright forenoon; and to please Estelle she was talking French--her French being fluent enough, if it was not quite perfect as to accent. They were passing along Piccadilly, when she stopped at a certain shop.

"Come, I show you something," she said.

Estelle followed her in. The moment the shopman saw who it was he did not wait to be questioned.

"It is quite ready, miss; I was just about to send it down."

He brought forward the double loving-cup that Lionel had given to Nina; and as the young lady took it into her hands she glanced at the rim. Yes; the inscription was quite right: "_From Leo to Nina_"--that was the simple legend she had had engraved.

"Here is the cup I spoke of, Estelle; is it not beautiful? And then I would not trouble Lionel to have the inscription made--I told him I would have it done myself and asked him what the words should be--behold it!"

The cup was duly admired and handed back to be sent down to Sloane Street; then Estelle and she left the shop together.

"Oh, yes, it is very beautiful," said the former, continuing to speak in her native tongue, "and a very distinguished present; but there is something still more piquant that he will be buying for you ere long--can you not guess, Nina?--no?--not a wedding-ring?"

The audacity of the question somewhat disconcerted Nina; but she met it with no sham denial, no affected protest.

"He has not spoken to me, Estelle," Nina said, gravely and simply, "And sometimes I ask myself if it is not better we should remain as we are--we are such good friends and companions. We are happy; we have plenty to occupy ourselves with; why undertake more serious cares? Perhaps that is all that Lionel thinks of it; and, if it is so, I am content. And then sometimes, Estelle, I ask myself if it would not be better for him to marry--when he has made his choice, that is to say; and I picture him and his young wife living very happily in a quite small establishment--perhaps two or three rooms only, in one of those large buildings in Victoria Street--and everything very pretty around them, with their music and their occupations and the visits of friends. Would not that be for him a life far more satisfactory than his present distractions--the gayeties and amusements--the invitations of strangers?"

"Yes, yes, yes!" her companion cried, with instant assent. "Ah, Nina, I can see you the most charming young house-mistress--I can see you receive your guests when they come for afternoon music--you wear a tea-gown of brocade the color of wall-flower, with cream-colored lace--you speak French, English, Italian as it is necessary for this one and that--your musical reunions are known everywhere. Will madame permit the poor Estelle to be present?--Estelle, who will not dare to sing before those celebrated ones, but who will applaud, applaud--in herself a prodigious _claque_! And now, behold! Miss Burgoyne arrives--Miss Burgoyne in grand state--and nevertheless you are her dear Nina, her charming friend, although in her heart she hates you for having carried off the handsome Lionel--"

"Estelle," said Nina, gently, "you let your tongue run away. When I picture to myself Lionel in the future, I leave the space beside him empty. Who is to fill it?--perhaps he has never given a thought to that. Perhaps it will always be empty; perhaps one of his fashionable friends will suddenly appear there, who knows? He does not seem ever to look forward; if I remonstrate about his expenditure, he laughs. And why should he give me things of value? I am not covetous. If he wishes to express kindness, is not a word better than any silver cup; If he wishes to be remembered when he is absent, would not the smallest message sent in a letter be of more value than a bracelet with sapphires--"

"Oh, Nina," her companion exclaimed, laughing, "what a thing to say!--that you would rather have a scrap of writing from Lionel Moore than a bracelet with sapphires--"

"No, Estelle, I did not," Nina protested, rather indignantly; "I was talking of the value of presents generally, and of their use or uselessness."

"And yet you seemed very proud of that loving-cup, Nina, and of the inscription on it," Estelle said, demurely; and there the subject ended, for they were now approaching the photographer's.

It was a Saturday night that Honnor Cunyngham and her mother--who had come up from Brighton for a few days--had been induced to fix for their visit to the New Theatre; and as the evening drew near, Lionel became more and more anxious, so that he almost regretted having persuaded them. All his other troubles and worries he could at once carry to Nina, whose cheerful common-sense and abundant courage made light of them and lent him heart; but this one he had to ponder over by himself; he did not care to tell Nina with what concern he looked forward to the impressions that Miss Cunyngham might form of himself and his surroundings when brought immediately into contact with them. And yet he was not altogether silent.

"You see how it is, Nina," he said, in tones of deep vexation. "That fellow Collier has been allowed to gag and gag until the whole piece is filled with his music-hall tomfoolery, and the music has been made quite subsidiary. I wonder Lehmann doesn't get a lot of acrobats and conjurors, and let Miss Burgoyne and you and me stop at home. "The Squire's Daughter" is really a very pretty piece, with some delightful melody running through it; but that fellow has vulgarized it into the lowest burlesque."

"What does it matter to you, Leo?" Nina said. "What he does is separate from you. He cannot vulgarize your singing."

"But he makes all that clowning of his so important--it has become so big a feature of the piece that any friends of yours coming to see the little opera might very naturally say, 'Oh, is this the kind of thing he figures in? This is an intellectual entertainment, truly!'"

"But you do not join in it, Leo!" Nina protested.

"In the most gagging scene of all, I've got to stand and look on the whole time!" he said.

"Oh, no, Leo," Nina said, with mock sympathy, "you can listen to Miss Burgoyne as she talks to you from behind her fan."

"Those two ladies I told you of," he continued, "who are coming on Saturday night--I wonder what they will think of all that low-comedy stuff. I begin to wish I hadn't asked them to come behind, but I thought it might be a sort of inducement. Miss Cunyngham was very kind to me when I was in the Highlands, and this was all I could think of; but I don't think she has much of the frivolous curiosity of her sisters-in-law; and I am not sure that her mother and she would even care much for the honor of having tea in Miss Burgoyne's room. No, I wish I hadn't asked them."

"Do you value their opinion so highly, then, Leo?" Nina asked, gently.

"Oh, yes," he said, with some hesitation--"that is, I shouldn't like them to form any unfavorable impression--to go away with any scornful feeling towards comic opera, and towards the people engaged in it; I should like them to think well of the piece. I suppose I couldn't bribe Collier to leave out the half of his gag, or the whole of it, for that particular night. Did you see what one of the papers said about the 400th performance?--that the fate of "The Squire's Daughter" had for some time been doubtful, but that it had been saved by the increased prominence given to the part played by Mr. Fred Collier!--a compliment to the public taste!--the piece saved by lugging in a lot of music-hall buffoonery!"

"But, Leo," Nina said, "your friends who are coming on Saturday night will not think you responsible for all that."

"People are apt to judge of you by your associates, Nina," he said, absently; he was clearly looking forward to this visit with some compunction, not to say alarm.

Then he went to Miss Burgoyne. Miss Burgoyne had forgiven him for having introduced Percival Miles to the Richmond dinner-party; indeed, she was generally as ready to forgive as she was quick to take offence.

"I wish you would do me a very great favor," he said.

"What is it?" asked Grace Mainwaring, who was standing in front of the tall mirror, adjusting the shining stars and crescents that adorned her powdered hair.

"I suppose you could wear a little nosegay with that dress," he said, "of natural flowers, done up with a bit of white satin ribbon, perhaps, and a silver tube and cord, or something of that kind?"

"Flowers?" she repeated. "Oh, yes, I could wear them--if any one were polite enough to give me them."

"I shall be delighted to send you some every evening for a month, if you'll only do this for me on Saturday," said he. "It is on Saturday night those two ladies are coming to the theatre; and you were good enough to promise to ask them to your room and offer them some tea. The younger of the two--that is, Miss Cunyngham--has never been behind the scenes of a theatre before, and I think she will be very pleased to be introduced to Miss Grace Mainwaring; and don't you think it would be rather nice of Miss Grace Mainwaring to take those flowers from her dress and present them to the young lady, as a souvenir of her visit?"

She wheeled round, and looked at him with a curious scrutiny.

"Well, this _is something new!" she said, as she turned to the mirror again. "I thought it was the fortunate Harry Thornhill who received all kinds of compliments and attentions from his lady adorers; I wasn't aware he ever returned them. But do you think it is quite fair, Mr. Moore? If this is some girl who has a love-sick fancy for Harry Thornhill, don't you think you should drop Harry Thornhill and play David Garrick, to cure the poor thing?"

"Considering that Miss Cunyngham has never seen Harry Thornhill," he was beginning, when she interrupted him:

"Oh, only heard him sing in private? Quite enough, I suppose, to put nonsense into a silly school-girl's head."

"When you see this young lady," he observed, "I don't think you will say she looks like a silly school-girl. She's nearly as tall as I am, for one thing."

"I hate giraffes," said Miss Burgoyne, tartly, "Do you put a string round her neck when you go out walking with her?"

He was just on the point of saying something about greenroom manners, but thought better of it.

"Now, Miss Burgoyne," he said to her, "on Saturday night you are going to put on your most winning way--you can do it when you like--and you are going to captivate and fascinate those two people until they'll go away home with the conviction that you are the most charming and delightful creature that ever lived. You can do it easily enough if you like--no one better. You are going to be very nice to them, and you'll send them away just in love with Grace Mainwaring."

Miss Burgoyne altered her tone a little.

"If I give your giraffe friend those flowers, I suppose you expect me to tell lies as well?" she asked, with some approach to good-humor.

"About what?"

"Oh, about being delighted to make her acquaintance, and that kind of thing."

"I have no doubt you will be as pleased to make her acquaintance as she will be to make yours," said he, "and a few civil words never do any harm."

Here Miss Burgoyne was called. She went to the little side-table and sipped some of her home-brewed lemonade; then he opened the door for her, and together they went up into the wings.

"Tall, is she?" continued Miss Burgoyne, as they were looking on at Mr. Fred Collier's buffooneries out there on the stage. "Is she as silent and stupid as her brother?"

"Her brother?"

"Lord Rockminster."

"Oh, Lord Rockminster isn't her brother. You've got them mixed up," said Lionel. "Miss Cunyngham's brother, Sir Hugh, married a sister of Lord Rockminster--the Lady Adela Cunyngham who came to your room one night--don't you remember?"

"You seem to have the whole peerage and baronetage at your fingers' ends," said she, sullenly; and the next moment she was on the stage, smiling and gracious, and receiving her father's guests with that charming manner which the heroine of the operetta could assume when she chose.

Even with Miss Burgoyne's grudgingly promised assistance, Lionel still remained unaccountably perturbed about that visit of Lady Cunyngham and her daughter; and when on the Saturday evening he first became aware--through the confused glare of the footlights--that the two ladies had come into the box he had secured for them, it seemed to him as though he were responsible for every single feature of the performance. As for himself, he was at his best, and he knew it; he sang, 'The starry night brings me no rest' with such a _verve that the enthusiasm of the audience was unbounded; even Miss Burgoyne--Miss Grace Mainwaring, that is, who was perched up on a bit of scaffolding in order to throw a rose to her lover--listened with a new interest, instead of being busy with her ribbons and the set of her hair; and when she opened the casement in answer to his impassioned appeal, she kissed the crimson-cotton blossom thrice ere she dropped it to her enraptured swain below. This was all very well; but when the comic man took possession of the stage, Lionel--instead of going off to his dressing-room to glance at an evening paper or have a chat with some acquaintance--remained in the wings, looking on with an indescribable loathing. This hideous farcicality seemed more vulgar than ever? what would Honnor Cunyngham think of his associates? He felt as if he were an accomplice in foisting this wretched music-hall stuff on the public. And the mother--the tall lady with the proud, fine features and the grave and placid voice--what would she think of the new acquaintance whom her daughter had introduced to her? Had it been Lady Adela or her sisters, he would not have cared one jot. They were proud to be in alliance with professional people; they flattered themselves that they rather belonged to the set--actors, authors, artists, musicians, those busy and eager amateurs considered to be, like themselves, of imagination all compact. But that he should have asked Honnor Cunyngham to come and look on at the antics of this gaping and grinning fool; that she should know he had to consort with such folk; that she should consider him an aider and abettor in putting this kind of entertainment before the public--this galled him to the quick. The murmur of the Aivron and the Geinig seemed dinning in his ears. If only he could have thrown aside these senseless trappings--if he were an under-keeper now, or a water-bailiff, or even a gillie looking after the dogs and the ponies, he could have met the gaze of those clear hazel eyes without shame. But here he was the coadjutor of this grimacing clown; and she was sitting in her box there--and thinking.

"What is it, Leo?" said Nina, coming up to him rather timidly. "You are annoyed."

"I have made a mistake, that is all," he said, rather impatiently. "I shouldn't have persuaded those two ladies to come to the theatre; I forgot what kind of thing we played in; I might as well have asked them to go to a penny gaff. Collier is worse than ever to-night."

"And you better, Leo," said Nina, who had always comforting words for him. "Did you not hear how enthusiastic the audience were? And if this is the young lady you told me of--who was so friendly in Scotland that she did not fear ridicule for herself in order to save you from the possibility of ridicule--surely she will be so well-wishing to you that she will understand you have nothing to do with the foolishness on the stage."

"If you are thinking of that salmon-fishing incident," he said, rather hastily, "of course you mustn't imagine there was any fear of _her encountering any ridicule. Oh, certainly not. It was no new thing for her to get wet when she was out fishing--"

"At all events, it was a friendly act to you," said Nina, on whom that occurrence seemed to have made some impression. "And if she is so generous, so benevolent towards you, do you think she will not see you are not responsible for the comic business?"

It was at the end of the penultimate act that an attendant brought round Miss Cunyngham and her mother--the latter a handsome and distinguished-looking elderly lady, with white hair done up _a la Marie Antoinette_--behind the scenes; and Nina, hanging some way back, could see them being presented to Miss Burgoyne. Nina was a little breathless and bewildered. She had heard a good deal about the fisher-maiden in the far North, of her hardy out-of-door life, and her rough and serviceable costume; and perhaps she had formed some mental picture of her--very different from the actual appearance of this tall young Englishwoman, whose clear, calm eyes, strongly marked eyebrows, and proud, refined features were so striking. Here was no simple maiden in a suit of serge, but a young woman of commanding presence, whose long cloak of tan-colored velvet, with its hanging sleeves showing a flash of crimson, seemed to Nina to have a sort of royal magnificence about it. And yet her manner appeared to be very simple and gentle; she smiled as she talked to Miss Burgoyne; and the last that Nina saw of her--as they all left together in the direction of the corridor, Lionel obsequiously attending them--was that the tall young lady walked with a most gracious carriage. Nina made sure that they had all disappeared before she, too, went down the steps; then she made her way to her own room, to get ready for the final act. Miss Girond, of course, was also here; but Nina had no word for Estelle; she seemed preoccupied about something.

Never had Harry Thornhill dressed so quickly; and when, in his gay costume of flowered silk and ruffles, tied wig and buckled shoes, he tapped at Miss Burgoyne's door and entered, he found that this young lady was still in the curtained apartment, though she had sent out Jane to see that her two visitors were being looked after. Lionel, too, helped himself to some tea; and it was with a singular feeling of relief that he discovered, as he presently did, that both Lady Cunyngham and her daughter were quite charmed with the piece, so far as they had seen it. They appeared to put the farcicality altogether aside, and to have been much impressed by the character of the music.

"What a pretty girl that Miss Ross is!" said the younger of the two ladies, incidentally. "But she is not English, is she? I thought I could detect a trace of foreign accent here and there."

"No, she is Italian," Lionel made answer. "Her name is really Rossi--Antonia Rossi--but her intimate friends call her Nina."

"What a beautiful voice she has!" Miss Honnor continued. "So fresh and pure and sweet. I think she has a far more beautiful voice than--"

He quickly held up his hand, and the hint was taken.

"And she puts such life into her part--she seems to be really light-hearted and merry," resumed Miss Honnor, who appeared to have been much taken by Nina's manner on the stage. "Do you know, Mr. Moore, I could not help to-night thinking more than once of "The Chaplet" and my sisters and their amateur friends. The difference between an amateur performance and a performance of trained artists is so marvellous; it doesn't seem to me to be one of degree at all; at an amateur performance, however clever it may be, I am conscious all the time that the people are assuming something quite foreign to themselves, whereas on the stage the people seem to be the actual characters they profess to be. I forget they are actors and actresses--"

"You must be a good audience, Miss Cunyngham," said he (it used to be "Miss Honnor" in Strathaivron, but that was some time ago--_then he was not decked out and painted for exhibition on the stage).

"Oh, I like to believe," she said. "I don't wish to criticise. I wholly and delightfully give myself up to the illusion. Mother and I go so seldom to the theatre that we are under no temptation to begin and ask how this or that is done, or to make any comparisons; we surrender ourselves to the story, and believe the people to be real people all we can. As for mother, if it weren't a dreadful secret--"

But here the curtains were thrown wide, and out came Miss Burgoyne, obviously conscious of her magnificent costume, profuse in her apologies for not appearing sooner. Something had gone wrong, and the mishap had kept her late; indeed, she had just time to go through the formality of taking a cup of tea with her guests when she was called and had to get ready to go.

(Illustration: "_And Nina, hanging some way back, could see them being presented to Miss Burgoyne._")

"However, I need not say good-bye just yet," she said to them, as she tucked up her voluminous train. "Wouldn't you like to look on for a little while from the wings? You could have the prompter's chair, Lady Cunyngham, so that you could see the audience or the stage, just as you chose, if Miss Cunyngham wouldn't mind standing about among the gasmen."

"If you are sure we shall not be in the way," said the elder lady, who had, perhaps, a little more curiosity than her daughter.

"Oh, Mr. Moore will show you," said Miss Burgoyne, making no scruple about preceding her visitors along the corridor and up the steps, for she had not too much time.

The prompter's office, now that this piece had been running over four hundred nights, was practically a sinecure, so that there was no trouble about getting Lady Cunyngham installed in the little corner, whence, through a small aperture, she could regard the dusky-hued audience or turn her attention to the stage just as she pleased. Miss Honnor stood close by her, when she was allowed--keeping out of sight of the opposite boxes as much as she could, though she observed that the workmen about her did not care much whether they were visible or not, and that they talked or called to one another with a fine indifference towards what was going forward on the stage. At present a minuet was being danced, and very pretty it was; she could not help noticing how cleverly Miss Burgoyne managed her train. As for her mother, the old lady seemed intensely interested and yet conscious all the time that she herself, in this strange position, was an interloper; again and again she rose and offered to resign her place to the rather shabby-looking elderly man who was the rightful occupant; but he just as often begged her to remain--he seemed mostly interested in the management of the gas-handles just over his head.

And now came in the comic interlude which Lionel had feared most of all--the squire's faithful henchman going through all the phases of getting drunk in double-quick stage-time; and, while those stupidities were going forward, Lionel and Miss Burgoyne were supposed to retire up the stage somewhat and look on. Well, they took up their positions--Grace Mainwaring being seated.

"Your giraffe is rather handsome," she said, behind her fan.

"I believe she is considered to be one of the best-looking women in England," said he, somewhat stiffly.

"Oh, really! Well, of course, tastes differ," Miss Grace Mainwaring said. "I don't think a woman should have blacking-brushes instead of eyebrows. But it's a matter of taste."

"Yes," said he, "and comic opera is the sort of place where one's taste becomes so refined. What do you think of this gag now? Is this what the public like--when they come to hear music?"

"You're very fastidious--you want everything to be super-fine--but you may depend on it that it keeps the piece going with the pit and gallery."

His answer to that was one of this young lady's strangest experiences of the stage: Lionel Moore had suddenly left her, and, indeed, quitted this scene, in which he was supposed to be a chief figure. He walked down the wings until he found himself close to Miss Honnor Cunyngham.

"Miss Cunyngham," he said.

She turned--her eyes somewhat bewildered by the glare of light on the stage.

"Come back, please," he said. "I don't want you to see this scene--it has nothing to do with the operetta--and it is dull and stupid and tedious beyond description."

She followed him two or three steps, wondering.

"You say you like the music," he continued, here in the twilight of the wings, "and the little story is really rather pretty and idyllic; but they _will go and introduce a lot of music-hall stuff to please the groundlings. I should prefer you not to see it. Won't you rather wait a little, and talk about something?--it isn't often you and I meet. Did you get many salmon after I left Strathaivron?"

"Oh, no," said she, still rather surprised. "Towards the end of the season the red fish are really not worth landing."

"It seems a long time since then," he said. "I find myself sitting up at night and thinking over all those experiences--making pictures of them--and the hours go by in a most astonishing fashion. Here in London, among the November fogs, it seems so strange to think of those splendid days and the long, clear twilights. I suppose it is all so well known to you, you do not trouble to recall it; but I do--it is like a dream--only that I see everything so distinctly--I seem almost to be able to touch each leaf of the bushes in the little dell where we used to have luncheon; do you remember?"

"Above the Geinig Pool?--oh, yes!" she said, smiling.

"And the Junction Pool," he continued, with a curious eagerness, as if he were claiming her sympathy, her interest, on account of that old companionship--"I can make the clearest vision of it as I sit up all by myself at night--you remember the little bush on the opposite side that you used sometimes to catch your fly on, and the shelf of shingle going suddenly down into the brown water--I always thought that was a dangerous place. And how well you used to fish the Rock Pool! Old Robert used to be so proud of you! Once, at the tail of the Rock Pool, you wound up, and said to him, 'Well, I can't do any better than that, Robert;' and then he said, 'No man ever fished that pool better--oh, I beg your pardon, Miss Honnor; no one at all ever fished that pool better.' I suppose Strathaivron is nothing to you--you must be so familiar with it--but to me it is a sort of wonderland, to dream of when I am all by myself at night--"

Alas! it was at this very moment that Nina came up from her room; Clara, the innkeeper's daughter, had to go on immediately after the ball-room scene was over. And Nina, as she came by, caught sight of these two, and for a moment she stood still, her eyes staring. The two figures were in a sort of twilight--a twilight as compared with the glare of the stage beyond them, but there were lights here quite sufficient to illumine their features; it was no imagination on Nina's part--she saw with a startling clearness that Lionel was regarding this tall, English-looking girl with a look she had never seen him direct towards any woman before--a timid, wistful, half-beseeching look that needed no words to explain its meaning. For a second Nina stood there, paralyzed--not daring to breathe--not able to move. Yet was it altogether a revelation to her, or only a sudden and overwhelming confirmation of certain half-frightened misgivings which had visited her from time to time, and which she had striven hard to banish? The next moment Nina had passed on silently, like a ghost, and had disappeared in the dusk behind some scenery.

"When shall you be back in Strathaivron, Miss Honnor?" he asked.

"In the spring, I suppose, for the salmon-fishing," she made answer.

"You will be up there in the clear April days, by the side of that beautiful river, and I shall be playing the mountebank here, among the London gas and fog."

But at this moment the orchestra began the slow music that intimated the resumption of the minuet, and this recalled him to his senses; he had hurriedly to take leave of her, and then he went and rejoined Miss Burgoyne, who merely said, "Well, that's a pretty trick!" as she gave him her hand for the dance.

A still stranger thing, however, happened in the next scene, where the gay young officer, the French prisoner of war, makes love to the innkeeper's daughter. Estelle noticed with great surprise that not only did Nina deliver the English maiden's retorts without any of the saucy spirit that the situation demanded, but also that she was quite confused about the words, stammering and hesitating, and getting through them in the most perfunctory manner. At last, when the little Capitaine Crepin says, "Bewitching maid, say you will fly with me!" Clara's reply is, "You forget I am to be married to-morrow--see, here comes my betrothed;" but Nina only got as far as "married to-morrow"--then she paused--hesitated--she put her hand to her head as if everything had gone from her brain--and at the same moment Estelle, with the most admirable presence of mind, continued, "See, here comes your betrothed," thus giving the lover his cue. The dialogue now remained with Estelle and this husband-elect, so that Nina had time to recover; and in the trio that closes the scene she sang her part well enough. Directly they had left the stage, Estelle ran to her friend.

"Nina, what was the matter?" she exclaimed.

"My head--" said Nina, pressing her hand against her forehead and talking rather faintly--"I do not know--my head is giddy, Estelle--oh, I wish it was all over!--I wish I was home!"

"You have very little more to do now, Nina!" Estelle said quickly to her, in French. "Come, you must have courage, Nina--I will run and get you my smelling-salts, and it will pass away--oh, you must make an effort, Nina--would you let Miss Burgoyne see you break down--no, no, indeed! You will be all right, Nina, I assure you--and I will tell the prompter to be on the watch for you--oh, I wouldn't give way--before Miss Burgoyne--if I were you, no, not for a hundred pounds!"

Therewith the kind-hearted little French officer sped away to her own room, and brought back the smelling-salts and was most eagerly solicitous that Nina should conquer this passing attack of hysteria, as she deemed it. And, indeed, Nina managed to get through the rest of her part without any serious breakdown, to Estelle's exceeding joy.

As they went home together in the four-wheeled cab, Nina did not utter a word. Once or twice Estelle fancied she heard a slight sob; but she merely said to herself,

"Ah, it has come back, that trembling of the nerves? But I will make her take some wine at supper, and she will go to bed and sleep well; to-morrow she will have forgotten all about it."

And Estelle was most kind and considerate when they got down to Sloane Street. She helped Nina off with her things; she stirred up the fire; she put a bottle of white wine on the table, where supper was already laid; she drew in Nina's chair for her. Then Mrs. Grey came up, to see that her children, as she called them, were all right; and she was easily induced to stay for a little while, for a retired actress is always eager to hear news of the theatre; so she and Miss Girond fell to talking between themselves. Nina sat silent; her eyes seemed heavy and tired; she only pretended to touch the food and wine before her.

"Very well, then, Nina," her friend said, when Mrs. Grey had gone, "if you will have nothing to eat or to drink, you must go to bed and see what a sound night's rest will do for you. I am going to sit up a little while to read, but I shall not disturb you."

"Good-night, then, Estelle," said Nina, rather languidly; "you have been so kind to me!"

They kissed each other; then Nina opened the folding-doors, and disappeared into her own room, while Estelle took up her book. It was "Les Vacances de Camille" she had got hold of; but she did not turn the pages quickly; there was something else in her mind. She was thinking of Nina. She was troubled about her, in a vague kind of way. She had never seen Nina look like that before, and she was puzzled and a little concerned.

Suddenly, in this hushed stillness, she heard, or fancied she heard, a slight sound that startled her; it came from the adjoining room. Stealthily she arose and approached the door; she put her ear close and listened; yes, she had not been mistaken--Nina was sobbing bitterly. Estelle did not hesitate a moment; she boldly opened the door and went in; and the first thing she beheld was Nina, just as she had left the other room, now lying prone on the bed, her face buried in the pillow, while in vain she tried to control the violence of her grief.

"Nina!" she cried, in alarm.

Nina sprang up--she thrust out both trembling hands, as if wildly seeking for help, and Estelle was not slow to seize them.

"Nina, what is it?" she exclaimed, frightened by the haggard face and streaming eyes.

"Estelle!--Estelle!" said Nina, in a low voice that simply tore the heart of this faithful friend of hers. "It is nothing! It is only that my life is broken--my life is broken--and I have no mother--_Poverina!_--she would have said to me--"

Her sobs choked her speech; she withdrew her trembling hands; she threw herself again on the bed, face downward, and burst into a wild fit of weeping. Estelle knew not what to do; she was terrified.

"Nina, what has happened?" she cried again.

"It is nothing!--it is nothing!--it is nothing!" she said, between her passionate sobs. "I have made a mistake; I am punished--O God, can you not kill me!--I do not wish to live--"

"Nina!" said Estelle, and the girl bent down and put her cheek close to her friend's, and she tenderly placed both her hands on the masses of beautiful blue-black hair. "Nina--tell me!"

In time the violent sobbing ceased, or partially ceased; Nina rose, but she clung to Estelle's hand and kissed it passionately.

"You have been so kind, so affectionate to me, Estelle! To-morrow you will know--perhaps. I will leave you a letter. I am going away. If you forget me--well, that is right; if you do not forget me, do not think bad of--of poor Nina!"

"I don't know what you mean, Nina," said Estelle, who was herself whimpering by this time; "but I won't let you go away. No, I will not. You do not know what you say. It is madness--to-morrow morning you will reflect--to-morrow morning you will tell me, and rely on me as a friend."

"Yes, to-morrow morning all will be right, Estelle," Nina said, again kissing the hand that she clung to. "Pardon me that I have kept you up--and disturbed you. Go away to your bed, Estelle--to-morrow morning all will be right!"

Very reluctantly Estelle was at length persuaded to leave; and as she left she turned off the gas in the sitting-room. A few minutes thereafter Nina, still dressed as she had come home from the theatre, entered the room, re-lit the gas, and noiselessly proceeded to clear a portion of the table, on which she placed writing materials. Then she went into her bedroom and fetched a little drawer in which she kept her valuables; and the first thing she did was to take out an old-fashioned gold ring she had brought with her from Naples. She put the ring in an envelope, and (while her eyelids were still heavy with tears, and her cheeks wan and worn) she wrote outside--"_For Estelle._"

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