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Full Online Book HomeLong StoriesPrince Fortunatus - Chapter 16. An Awakening
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Prince Fortunatus - Chapter 16. An Awakening Post by :LadyFingersJr Category :Long Stories Author :William Black Date :May 2012 Read :2505

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Prince Fortunatus - Chapter 16. An Awakening

CHAPTER XVI. AN AWAKENING

London is a dreary-looking city on a Sunday morning, especially on a Sunday morning in November; people seem to know how tedious the hours are going to be, and lie in bed as long as they decently can; the teeming and swarming capital of the world looks as if it had suddenly grown lifeless. When Lionel got up, there was a sort of yellow darkness in the air; hardly a single human being was visible in the Green Park over the way; a solitary saunterer, hands deep in the pockets of his overcoat, who wandered idly along the neglected pavement, had the appearance of having been out all night, and of not knowing what to do with himself, now that what passed for daylight had come. All of a sudden there flashed into the brain of this young man standing by the French window a yearning to get away from this dark and dismal town--there came before him a vision of clear air, of wind-swept waves, with an after-church promenade of fashionable folk in which he might recognize the welcome face of many a friend. He looked at his watch; there was yet time; he would hurry through his breakfast and catch the 10.45 to Brighton.

But was there nothing else prompting this unpremeditated resolve to get away down to Victoria station? Not some secret hope that he might perchance descry Lady Cunyngham and her daughter among the crowd swarming on to the long platform? They had not definitely told him at the theatre that they were returning the next morning; but was it not just possible--or, rather, extremely probable? And surely he might presume on their mutual acquaintance so far as to get into the same railway-carriage and have some casual chatting with them on the way down? He had been as attentive as possible to them on the previous evening; and they had seemed pleased. And he had tried to arouse in Miss Honnor's mind some recollection of the closer relationship which had existed between her and him in the solitudes of far Strathaivron.

When he did arrive at Victoria station he found the people pouring in in shoals; for now was the very height of the Brighton season; besides which there were plenty of Londoners glad to escape, if only for a day, from the perpetual fog and gloom. And yet, curiously enough, although the carriages were being rapidly filled, he took no trouble about securing a seat. After he had gone down the whole length of the train, he turned, and kept watching the new arrivals as they came through the distant gate. The time for departure was imminent; but he did not seem anxious about getting to Brighton. And at last his patience, or his obstinacy, was rewarded; he saw two figures--away along there--that he instantly recognized; even at a greater distance he could have told that one of these was Honnor Cunyngham, for who else in all England walked like that? The two ladies were unattended by either man or maid; and as they came along they seemed rather concerned at the crowded condition of the train. Lionel walked quickly forward to meet them. There was no time for the expression of surprise on their part--only for the briefest greeting.

"I must try to get you seats," said he, "but the train appears to be very full, and the guards are at their wits' end. I say!" he called to a porter. "Look here; this train is crammed, and the people are pouring in yet; what are they going to do?"

"There's a relief train, sir," said the porter, indicating a long row of empty carriages just across the platform.

"You are sure those are going?"

"Yes, sir."

"Then we can get in now?"

The man looked doubtful; but Lionel soon settled that matter by taking the two ladies along to a Pullman car, where the conductor at once allowed them to pass. It is true that as soon as the public outside perceived that these empty carriages were also going, they took possession without more ado; but in the meantime Lionel and his two companions had had their choice of places, so that they were seated together when the train started.

"It was most fortunate we met you," Lady Cunyngham said, bending very friendly eyes on the young man. "I do so hate a crowded train; it happens so seldom in travelling in England that one is not used to it. Are you going down to Brighton for any time, Mr. Moore?"

"Mother," said Honnor Cunyngham, almost reproachfully, "you forget what Mr. Moore's engagements are."

"Yes," said he, with a smile, "it is rather a cruel question. My glimpses of the sea and sky are few and far between. The heavens that I usually find over my head are made of canvas; and the country scenes I wander through are run on wheels."

"But don't you think," said Miss Honnor to him (and it seemed so cheerful to be away from the London gloom and out here in the clearer air; to find himself sitting so near this young lady, able to regard her dress, listening to her voice, sometimes venturing to meet the straightforward glance of her calm eyes--all this was a wondrous and marvellous thing)--"don't you think you enjoy getting away from town all the more keenly? I shall never forget you in Strathaivron; _you were never bored like some of the other gentlemen."

"Each and every day was one to be marked by a white stone," he said, with an earnestness hardly befitting railway-carriage conversation.

"The wet ones, too?" she asked, pleasantly.

"Wet or dry, what was the difference?" he made bold to say. "What did I care about the rain if I could go down to the Aivron or away up to the Geinig with you and old Robert?"

"You certainly were very brave about it," she said, in the most friendly way; "you never once grumbled when the sandwiches got damp--not once."

And so the three of them kept gayly and carelessly talking and chatting together, as the long train thundered away to the south; while ever and anon they could turn their eyes to that changing phantasmagoria of the outer world that went whirling by the windows. It was rather a wild-looking day, sometimes brightening with a wan glare of sunlight, but more often darkening until the country looked like a French landscape, in its sombre tones of gray and black and green. Yet, nevertheless, there was a sort of picturesqueness in the brooding sky, the russet woods, the purple hedges, and the new-ploughed furrows; while now and again a distant mansion, set on a height, shone a fair yellow above its terraced lawn. Scattered rooks swept down the wind and settled in a field. The moorhens had forsaken the ruffled water of the ponds and sought shelter among the withered sedge. Puffs of white steam from the engine flew across and were lost in the leafless trees. Embankments suddenly showed themselves high in the air, and as suddenly dipped again; then there were long stretches of coppice, with red bracken, and a sprinkling of gold on the oaks. To Lionel the time went by all too quickly; before he had said the half of what he wanted to say, behold! here they were at Preston Park.

"You are at least remaining over until to-morrow?" Lady Cunyngham asked him.

"Well, no," said he, "I did not think of coming down until this morning, and so I had made no arrangements. I should think it hardly likely there would be a vacant bedroom at the Orleans Club at this time of year--no, in any case, I must get back by the 8.40 to-night."

"And in the meantime," she asked again, "have you any engagement?"

"None. I dare say I shall have a stroll along the sea-front, and then drop in for lunch at the Orleans."

"You might as well come down now and lunch with us," said she, simply.

Lionel's face brightened up amazingly; he had been looking forward to saying good-bye at the station with anything but joy.

"I should be delighted--if I am not in the way," was his prompt answer.

"Oh, Honnor and I are entirely by ourselves at present," said this elderly lady with the silver-white hair. "We are expecting Lady Adela and her sisters this week, however; and perhaps my son will come down later on."

"Are they back from Scotland?"

"They arrive to-morrow, I believe."

"And Lady Adela's novel?"

"Oh, I don't know anything about that," said she, with a good-humored smile. "Surely she can't have written another novel already!"

When they got into the station, a footman was awaiting them, but they had no bags or baggage of any description; they walked a little way along the platform and entered the carriage; presently they were driving away down to the sea-front. What Honnor Cunyngham thought of the arrangement, it is impossible to say, but the invitation was none of her giving: no doubt it was merely a little compliment in acknowledgment of Mr. Moore's kindness of the preceding night. However, when the barouche pulled up in front of a house in Adelaide Crescent, Mr. Moore had his own proposal to make.

"It seems so pleasant down there," said he, looking towards the wide stretches of greensward and the promenade along the sea-wall, where the people, just come out of church, were strolling to and fro; "every one appears to be out--don't you think we should have a little walk before going in?"

Honnor Cunyngham said nothing; it was her mother who at once and good-naturedly assented; and when they had descended from the carriage they forthwith made their way down to mix in this idle throng. It was quite a bright and pleasant morning here--a stiff southwesterly breeze blowing--a considerably heavy sea thundering in and springing with jets of white spray into the air--the sunlight shining along the yellow houses of Brunswick Terrace, where there were cheerful bits of green here and there in the balconies. Then the crowd was rather more gayly dressed than an English crowd usually is; for women allow themselves a little more latitude in the way of color during the Brighton season, and on such a morning there was ample excuse for a display of sunshades. And was it merely a wish to breathe the fresh-blowing wind and to listen to the hissing withdrawal and recurrent roar of the waves that had induced Lionel to ask his two companions to join in this slow march up and down? Young men have their little vanities and weaknesses, like other folk. Rumor had on more than one occasion coupled his name with that of some fair damsel; what if he were to say now, "Well, if you will talk, here is one worth talking about." He was conscious on this shining morning that Miss Cunyngham--the more beautiful daughter of a beautiful mother--was looking superb; he remembered what Miss Georgie had said about Honnor's proud and graceful carriage. He knew a good many of the people in this slow-moving assemblage; and he was not sorry they should see him talking to this tall and handsome young Englishwoman--who also appeared to have a numerous acquaintanceship.

"Why, you seem to know everybody, Mr. Moore?" she said to him, with a smile.

"You would think all London was here this morning--it's really astonishing!" he made answer.

Occasionally they stopped to have a chat with more particular friends; and then Lionel would remain a little bit aside; though once or twice Lady Cunyngham chose to introduce him, and that pleased him, he hardly knew why. But at last she said,

"Well, I think we must be getting home. Properly speaking we have no right to be in the prayer-book brigade at all, for we have not been to church this morning."

Not unlikely the squire of these two ladies was rather loath to leave this gay assemblage; but he was speedily consoled, for, to his inexpressible joy, he found, when they got in-doors, that there was no one else coming to lunch--these three were to be quite by themselves. And of what did they not talk during this careless, protracted, idling meal? Curiously enough, it was Nina, not Miss Burgoyne, who appeared to have chiefly impressed the two visitors on the preceding evening; and when Lady Cunyngham discovered that she was an old companion and fellow-student of Lionel's, she was much interested, and would have him tell her all about his experiences in Naples. And again Miss Honnor recurred to the difference between amateur and professional acting, that seemed to have struck her so forcibly the previous night.

(Illustration: "_'Why, you seem to know everybody, Mr. Moore!' she said to him, with a smile._")

"Really, Mr. Moore," said she, "you must have an astonishing amount of good-nature and tolerance. If I had complete command of any art, and saw a band of amateurs attempting something in it and not even conscious of their own amateurishness, I don't know whether I should be more inclined to laugh or to be angry. I used to be amused, up there in Strathaivron, with the confidence Georgie Lestrange showed in singing a duet with you--"

"Ah, but Miss Lestrange sings very well," said he. "And, you know, if Lady Adela and her sisters perform a piece like "The Chaplet"--well, that is a Watteau-like sort of thing--Sevres china--force or passion of any kind isn't wanted--it's all artificial, and confessedly so. And then, when the professional actor finds himself acting with amateurs, I dare say he modifies himself a little--"

"Becomes an amateur, in short," she said.

"In a measure. Otherwise he would be a regular bull in a china shop. And surely, when you get a number of people in a remote place like Strathaivron, the efforts of amateurs to amuse them should be encouraged and approved. I thought it was very unselfish of them--very kind--though they generally succeeded in sending Lord Fareborough to bed. By the way, Miss Cunyngham, did Lord Fareborough ever get a stag?"

For it was observable that this young man, whenever he got the chance, was anxious to lead away the conversation from the theatre and all things pertaining thereunto, and would rather talk about Strathaivron and salmon-fishing and Miss Honnor's plans with regard to the coming year.

"Oh, no," she said, "he never went out but that once, and then he nearly killed himself, according to his own account. We never quite knew what happened; there was some dark mystery that Roderick wouldn't explain; and, you know, Lord Fareborough himself is rather short-tempered. He ought not to have gone out--a man who has imagined himself into that hypochondriacal state. However, it has given him an excuse for thinking himself a greater invalid than ever; and he has got it into his head now that we all of us persuaded him to try a day's stalking--a conspiracy, as it were, to murder him. There was some accident at one of the fords, I believe. He came home early. I never heard of his having fired at a stag at all." And then she added, with a smile. "Mr. Moore, what made you send me such a lot of salmon-flies?"

"Oh, well," he said, "I thought you ought to have a good stock." How could he tell her of his vague hope that the Jock Scotts and Blue Doctors might serve for a long time to recall him to her memory?

"I suppose you have got the stag's head by now?" she asked.

"Oh, yes, indeed; and tremendously proud of it I am," he responded, eagerly. "You know I should never have gone deer-stalking but for you. I made sure I was going to make a fool of myself--"

"I remember you were rather sensitive, or anxious not to miss, perhaps," she said, in a very gentle way. "I thought of it again last night, when I saw you so completely master in your own sphere--so much at home--with everything at your command--"

"Oh, yes, very much at home," he answered her, with just a touch of bitterness. "Perhaps it is easy to be at home--in harlequinade--though you may not quite like it." And then once more he refused to talk of the theatre. "I am going to send old Robert some tobacco at Christmas," said he.

"I heard of what you did already in that way," she said, smiling. "Do you know that you may spoil a place by your extravagance? I should think all the keepers and gillies in Strathaivron were blessing your name at this very moment."

"And you go up in the spring, you said?"

"Yes. That is the real fishing-time. My brother Hugh and I have it all to ourselves then; Lady Adela and the rest of them prefer London."

And then it was almost in his heart to cry out to her, "May not I, too, go up there, if but for a single week--for six clear-shining days in the springtime?" Ben More, Suilven, Canisp--oh, to see them once again!--and the windy skies, and Geinig thundering down its rocky chasm, and Aivron singing its morning song along the golden gravel of its shoals! what did he want with any theatre?--with the harlequinade in which he was losing his life? Could he not escape? Euston station was not so far away--and Invershin? It seemed to him as though he had already shaken himself free--that a gladder pulsation filled his veins--that he was breathing a sweeter air. The white April days shone all around him; the silver and purple clouds went flying overhead; here he was by the deep, brown pools again, with the gray rocks and the overhanging birch-woods and the long shallows filling all the world with that soft, continuous murmur. As for his singing?--oh, yes, he could sing--he could sing, if needs were,

"O lang may his lady-love
Look frae the Castle Doune,
Ere she see the Earl o' Moray
Come sounding through the toun"--


but there is no gaslight here--there are no painted faces--he has not to look on at the antics of a clown, with shame and confusion in his heart--

The wild fancy was suddenly snapped in twain; Lady Cunyngham rose; the two younger people did likewise.

"Now, I know you gentlemen like a cigar or cigarette after luncheon," she said to Lionel, "and we are going to leave you quite by yourself--you will find us in the drawing-room when you please."

Of course he would not hear of such a proposal; he opened the door for them, and followed them up-stairs; what were cigars or cigarettes to him when he had such a chance of listening to Honnor Cunyngham's low, modulated voice, or watching for a smile in the calmly observant hazel eyes? Indeed, in the drawing-room, as Miss Honnor showed him a large collection of Assiout ware which had been sent her by an English officer in Egypt (by what right or title, Lionel swiftly asked himself, had any English officer made bold to send Miss Cunyngham a hamperful of these red-clay idiotcies?), this solitary guest had again and again to remind himself that he must not outstay his welcome. And yet they seemed to find a great deal to talk about; and the elder of the two ladies was exceedingly kind to him; and there was a singular fascination in his finding himself entirely _en famille with them. But alas! Even if he or they had chosen to forget, the early dusk of the November afternoon was a sufficient warning; the windows told him he had to go. And go he did at last. He bade them good-bye; with some friendly words still dwelling in his ears he made his way down the dim stairs and had the door opened for him; then he found himself in this now empty and hopeless town of Brighton, that seemed given over to the low, multitudinous murmur of that wide waste of waves.

He did not go along to the Orleans Club; his heart and brain were too busy to permit of his meeting chance acquaintances. He walked away towards Shoreham till a smart shower made him turn. When he got back to the town the lamps were lit, throwing long, golden reflections on the wet asphalt, but the rain had ceased; so he continued to pace absently along through this blue twilight, hardly noticing the occasional dark figures that passed. What was the reason, then, of this vague unrest--this unknown longing--this dissatisfaction and almost despair? Had he not been more fortunate than he could have hoped for? He had met Miss Honnor and her mother in the morning, and had been with them all the way down; they had been most kind to him; he had spent the best part of the day with them; they had parted excellent friends; looking back, he could not recall a single word he would have liked unsaid. Then a happy fancy struck him: the moment he got up to town he would go and seek out Maurice Mangan. There was a wholesome quality in Mangan's saturnine contempt for the non-essential things of life; Mangan's clear penetration, his covert sympathy, his scorn or mock-melancholy, would help him to get rid of these vapors.

When Lionel returned to town a little after ten o'clock that night he walked along to Mangan's rooms in Victoria Street, and found his friend sitting in front of the fire alone.

"Glad you've looked in, Linn."

"Well, you don't seem to be busy, old chap; who ever saw you before without a book or a pipe?"

"I've been musing, and dreaming dreams, and wishing I was a poet," said this tall, thin, languid-looking man, whose abnormally keen gray eyes were now grown a little absent. "It's only a fancy, you know--perhaps something could be made of it by a fellow who could rhyme--"

"But what is it?" Lionel interposed.

"Well," said the other, still idly staring into the fire before him, "I think I would call it 'The Cry of the Violets'--the violets that are sold in bunches at the head of the Haymarket at midnight. Don't you fancy there might be something in it--if you think of where they come from--the woods and copses, children playing, and all that--and of what they've come to--the gas-glare and drunken laughter and jeers. I would make them tell their own story--I would make them cry to Heaven for swift death and oblivion before the last degradation of being pinned on to the flaunting dress." And then again he said: "No, I don't suppose there's any thing in it; but I'll tell you what made me think of it. This morning, as we were coming back from Winstead church--you know how extraordinarily mild it has been of late, and the lane going down to the church is very well sheltered--I found a couple of violets in at the roots of the hedge--within a few inches of each other, indeed--and I gave them to Miss Francie, and she put them in her prayer-book and carried them home. I thought the violets would not object to that, if they only knew."

"So you went down to Winstead this morning?"

"Yes."

"And how are the old people?"

"Oh, very well."

"And Francie?"

"Very busy--and very happy, I think. If she doesn't deserve to be, who does?" he continued, rousing himself somewhat from his absent manner. "I suppose, now, there is no absolutely faultless woman; and yet I sometimes think it would puzzle the most fastidious critic of human nature to point out any one particular in which Miss Francie could be finer than she is; I think it would. It is not my business to find fault; I don't want to find fault; but I have often thought over Miss Francie--her occupations, her theories, her personal disposition, even her dress--and I've wondered where the improvement was to be suggested. You see, she might be a very good woman, and yet have no sense of humor; she might be very charitable, and also a little vainglorious about it; she might have very exalted ideas of duty, and be a trifle hard on those who did not come up to her standards; but in Miss Francie's case these qualifications haven't to be put in at all. She always seems to me to be doing the right thing, and just in the right way--with a kind of fine touch that has no namby-pambiness about it. Oh, she can be firm, too; she can scold them well enough, those children--when she doesn't laugh and pat them on the shoulder the minute after."

"This is, indeed, something, as coming from you, Maurice!" Lionel exclaimed. "Has it been left for you to discover an absolutely perfect human being?"

"It isn't for you to find fault with her, anyway," the other said, rather sharply. "She's fond enough of you."

"Who said I was finding fault with her?--not likely I am going to find fault with Francie!" Lionel replied, with sufficient good-humor. "Well, now that you have discovered an absolutely faultless creature, you might come to the help of another who is only too conscious that he has plenty of faults, and who is so dissatisfied with himself and his surroundings that he is about sick of life altogether."

Notwithstanding the light tone in which he introduced the subject, Mangan looked up quickly, and regarded the younger man with those penetrating gray eyes.

"Where have you been to-day, Linn?"

"Brighton."

"Among the dukes and duchesses again? Ah, you needn't be angry--I respect as much as anybody those whom God has placed over us--I haven't forgotten my catechism--I can order myself lowly and reverently to all my betters. But tell me what the matter is. You sick of life?--I wonder what the gay world of London would think of that!"

And therewithal Lionel, in a somewhat rambling and incoherent fashion, told his friend of a good many things that had happened to him of late--of his vague aspirations and dissatisfactions--of Miss Cunyngham's visit to the theatre, and his disgust over the music-hall clowning--of his going down to Brighton that day, and his wish to stand on some other footing with those friends of his--winding up by asking, to Mangan's surprise, how long it would take to study for the bar and get called, and whether his training--the confidence acquired on the stage--might not help in addressing a jury.

"So the idol has got tired of being worshipped," Mangan said, at last. "It is an odd thing. I wonder how many thousands of people there are in London--not merely shop-girls--who consider you the most fortunate person alive--in whose imagination you loom larger than any saint or soldier, any priest or statesman, of our own time. And I wonder what they would say if they knew you were thinking of voluntarily abdicating so proud and enviable a position. Well, well!--and the reason for this sacrifice? Of course, you know it is a not uncommon thing for women to give up their carriages and luxuries and fine living, and go into a retreat, where they have to sweep out cells, and even keep strict silence for a week at a time, which, I suppose, is a more difficult business. The reason in their case is clear enough; they are driven to all that by their spiritual needs; they want to have their souls washed clean by penance and self-denial. But you," he continued, in no unfriendly mood, but with his usual uncompromising sincerity, "whence comes your renunciation? It is simply that a woman has turned your head. You want to find yourself on the same plane with her; you want to be socially her equal; and to do that you think you should throw off those theatrical trappings. You see, my dear Linn, if I have remembered my catechism, you have not; you have forgotten that you must learn and labor truly to get your own living, and do your duty in that state of life unto which it has pleased God to call you. You want to change your state of life; you want to become a barrister. What would happen? The chances are entirely against your being able to earn your own living--at least for years; but what is far more certain is that your fashionable friends--whose positions and occupations you admire--would care nothing more about you. You are interesting to them now because you are a favorite of the public, because you play the chief part at the New Theatre. What would you be as a briefless barrister? Who would provide you with salmon-fishing and deer-stalking then? If you aspired to marry one of those dames of high degree, what would be your claims and qualifications? You say you would almost rather be a gillie in charge of dogs and ponies. A gillie in charge of dogs and ponies doesn't enjoy many conversations with his young mistress; and if he made bold to demand any closer alliance Pauline would pretty soon have that Claude kicked off the premises--and serve him right. If you had come to me and said, 'I am too well off; I am being spoiled and petted to death; the simplicity and dignity of life is being wholly lost in all this fashionable flattery, this public notoriety and applause; and to recover myself a little--as a kind of purification--I am going to put aside my trappings; I will go and work as a hod-carrier for three months or six months; I will live on the plainest fare; I will bear patiently the cursing the master of the gang will undoubtedly hurl at me; I will sleep on a straw mattress'--then I could have understood that. But what is it you renounce?--and why? You think you would recommend yourself better to your swell friends if you dropped the theatre altogether--"

"Don't you want to hire a hall?" said Lionel, gloomily.

"Oh, nobody likes being preached at less than I do myself," Mangan said, with perfect equanimity, "but you see I think I ought to tell you, when you ask me, how I regard the situation. And, mind you, there is something very heroic--very impracticably heroic, but magnanimous all the same--in your idea that you might abandon all the popularity and position you have won as a mere matter of sentiment. Of course you won't do it. You couldn't bring yourself to become a mere nobody--as would happen if you went into chambers and began reading up law-books. And you wouldn't be any nearer to salmon-fishing and deer-forests that way, or to the people who possess these by birth and inheritance. The trouble with you, Linn, my boy, as with most of us, is that you weren't born in the purple. It is quite true that if you were called to the bar you could properly claim the title of esquire, and you would find yourself not further down than the hundred and fiftieth or hundred and sixtieth section in the tables of precedence; but if you went with this qualification to those fine friends of yours, they would admit its validity, and let you know at the same time you were no longer interesting to them. Harry Thornhill, of the New Theatre, has a free passport everywhere; Mr. Lionel Moore, of the Middle Temple, wouldn't be wanted anywhere."

"You are very worldly-wise to-night, Maurice."

"I don't want to see you make a sacrifice that wouldn't bring you what you expect to gain by it," Mangan said. "But, as I say, you won't make any such sacrifice. You have had your brain turned by a pretty pair of eyes--perhaps by an elegant figure--and you have been troubled and dissatisfied and dreaming dreams."

"If that is your conclusion and summing-up of the whole matter," Lionel said, with studied indifference, "perhaps you will offer me a drink, and I'll have a cigarette, and we can talk about something on which we are likely to agree."

"I'm sure I beg your pardon," Mangan said, with a laugh; and he went and brought forth what modest stores he had, and he was quite willing that the conversation should flow into another channel.

And little did Lionel know that at this very moment there was something awaiting him at his own rooms that would (far more effectually than any reasoning and plain speaking) banish from his mind, for the moment at least, all those restless aspirations and vague regrets. When eventually he arrived in Piccadilly and went up-stairs, he was not expecting any letters, this being Sunday; and as there was on the table only a small parcel, he would probably have left that unheeded till the morning (no doubt it was a pair of worked slippers, or a couple of ivory-backed brushes, or something of the kind) but that in passing he happened to glance at the note on the top of it, and he observed that the handwriting was foreign. He took it up carelessly and opened it; his carelessness soon vanished. The message was from Mlle. Girond, and it was in French:

"DEAR MR. MOORE,--To-day Mrs. Grey and I have called twice at your apartments, but in vain, and now I leave this letter for you. It is frightful, what has happened. Nina has gone, no one knows where; we can hear nothing of her. This morning when I came down to her room she was gone; there was a letter for me, one for Mr. Lehmann, one for Miss Constance, asking her to be ready to sing to-morrow night, another for Mrs. Grey, with money for the apartments until the end of the month, and also there was this little packet for you. In her letter to me she asks me to see them all delivered. During the night she must have made these arrangements; in the morning she is gone! I am in despair; I know not what to do. Will you have the goodness to come down to-morrow as soon as possible?

"ESTELLE."


And then mechanically he drew a chair to the table, and sat down and pulled the small package towards him; perhaps the contents might help to explain this extraordinary thing that had occurred. But the moment that he took the lid off the pasteboard box he was more bewildered than ever; for the first glimpse told him that Nina had returned to him all the little presents he had made to her in careless moments.

"Nina!" he said, under his voice, in a tone of indignant reproach.

Yes, here was every one of them, from the enclasped loving-cup to the chance trinkets he had purchased for her just as they happened to attract his eye. He took them all out; there was no letter, no message of any kind. And then he asked himself, almost angrily, what sort of mad freak was this. Had the wayward and petulant Nina--forgetting all the suave and gracious demeanor she had been teaching herself since she came to England--had she run away in a fit of temper, breaking her engagement at the theatre, and causing alarm and anxiety to her friends, all about nothing? For he and she had not quarrelled in any way whatsoever, as far as he knew. One fancy, at least, never occurred to him--or, if it occurred to him, it was dismissed in a moment--that Nina might have had a secret lover; that she had honestly wished to return these presents before making an elopement. It was quite possible that Nicolo Ciana, if he had heard of Nina's success in England, might have pursued her, and sought to marry so very eligible a helpmeet; but if the young man with the greasy hair and the sham jewelry and the falsetto voice had really come to England, Lionel knew who would have been the first to bid him return to his native shores and his _zuccherelli_. Had not Nina indignantly denied that he had ever dared to address her as "Nenna mia," or that his perpetual "Antoniella, Antonia," in any way referred to her? No; Lionel did not think that Nicolo Ciana had much to do with Nina's disappearance.

And then, as he regarded this little box of useless jewelry, another wild guess flashed through his brain, leaving him somewhat breathless, almost frightened. Was it possible that Nina had mistaken these gifts for love-gifts, had discovered her mistake, and, in a fit of wounded pride, had flung them back and fled forever from this England that had deceived her? He was not vain enough to think there could be anything more serious, that Nina might be breaking her heart over what had happened to her; but it was quite enough if he had unconsciously led her to believe that he was paying her attentions. He looked at that loving-cup with some pricking of conscience; he had to confess that such a gift was capable of misconstruction. It had never occurred to him that she might regard it as some kind of mute declaration--as a pledge of affection between him and her that necessitated no clearer understanding. He had seen the two tiny goblets in a window; he had been taken by the pretty silver-gilt ornamentation; he had been interested in the old-fashioned custom; and he had lightly imagined that Nina would be pleased--that was all. And now that he thought of it, he had to confess that he had been indiscreet. It is true he had given Nina those presents from time to time in a careless and haphazard fashion that ought not to have been misunderstood--only, as he had to remind himself, Nina must have perceived that he did not give similar presents to Miss Burgoyne, or Estelle Girond, or anybody else in the theatre. And was Nina now thinking that he had treated her badly?--Nina, who had been always his sympathizing friend, his gentle adviser, and kind companion. Was there any one in the world that he less wished to harm? He supposed she must have been angry when she returned these jewels and gew-gaws; clearly she was too proud to send him any other message. And now she would be away somewhere, where he could not get hold of her to pet her into a reconciliation again; no doubt there was some hurt feeling of injury in her heart--perhaps she was even crying.

"Poor Nina!" he said to himself, little dreaming of the true state of affairs. "I hope it isn't so? but if it is so, here have I, through mere thoughtlessness, wounded her pride, and, what is more, interfered with her professional career. I suppose she'll go right away back to old Pandiani; and they'll be precious glad to get her now at Malta, after her success in England. Perhaps some day we shall hear of her coming over here again, as a famous star in grand opera; that will be her revenge. But I never thought Nina would want to be revenged on me."

And yet he was uneasy; there was something in all this he did not understand. He began to long for the coming of the next day, that he might go away down to Sloane Street and hear what Miss Girond had to tell him. Why, for example, he asked himself, had Nina taken this step so abruptly--so entirely without warning? How and when had she made the discovery that she had mistaken the intention of those friendly little acts of kindness and his constant association with her? Then he tried to remember on what terms he had last parted from her. It was at the theatre, as he patiently summoned up each circumstance. It was at the theatre, on the preceding night. She had come to him in the wings, observing that he looked rather vexed, and she had given him comforting and cheerful words, as was her wont. Surely there was no anger in her mind against him then. But thereafter? Well, he had seen no more of Nina. When Miss Cunyngham had come behind the scenes, he had forgotten all about Nina. And then suddenly he remembered that he must have been standing close by the prompter's box, absorbed in talking to Miss Cunyngham, when Nina would have to come up to go on the stage. Had she passed them? Had she suspected? Had she, in her proud and petted way, resented this intimacy, and resolved to throw back to him the harmless little gifts he had bestowed on her? Poor Nina! she had always been so wilful--so easily pleased, so easily offended--but of late he had rather forgotten that, for she had been bearing herself with what she regarded as an English manner; and indeed their friendship had been so constant and unvarying, so kind and considerate on both sides, that there had been no opportunity for the half-vexed, half-laughing quarrels of earlier days. He would seek out this spoiled child (he said to himself) and scold her into being good again. And yet, even as he tried to persuade himself that all would still be well, he could not help recalling the fierce vehemence with which Nina had repudiated the suggestion that perhaps she might let some one else drink out of this hapless loving-cup that now lay before him. "I would rather have it dashed to pieces and thrown into the sea!" she had said, with pale face and quivering lips and eyes bordering on tears. He remembered that he had been a little surprised at the time--not thinking what it all might mean.

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