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Full Online Book HomeLong StoriesPrince Fortunatus - Chapter 17. A Crisis
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Prince Fortunatus - Chapter 17. A Crisis Post by :JeffC Category :Long Stories Author :William Black Date :May 2012 Read :3049

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Prince Fortunatus - Chapter 17. A Crisis

CHAPTER XVII. A CRISIS

When he went down to Sloane Street in the morning, he found Estelle eagerly awaiting him. She received him in Nina's small parlor; Mrs. Grey had just gone out. A glance round the room did not show him any difference, except that a row of photographs (of himself, mostly, in various costumes) had disappeared from the mantelshelf.

"Well, what is all this about?" he said, somewhat abruptly.

"Ah, do not blame me too quick!" Estelle said, with tears springing to her clear blue eyes. "Perhaps I am to blame--perhaps when I see her in such trouble on Saturday night, I should entreat her to tell me why; but I said, 'To-night I will not worry her more; to-morrow morning I will talk to her; we will go for a long walk together? Nina will tell me all her sorrow.' Then the morning comes, and she is gone away; what can I do? Twice I go to your apartment--"

"Oh, I am not blaming you at all, Miss Girond," he said, at once and quite gently. "If anybody is to blame, I suppose it's myself, for I appear to have quarrelled with Nina without knowing it. Of course you understood that that packet you left yesterday contained the various little presents I have given her from time to time--worthless bits of things--but all the same her sending them back shows that Nina has some ground of offence. I'm very sorry; if I could only get hold of her I would try to reason with her; but she was always sensitive and proud and impulsive like that. And then to run away because of some fancied slight--"

Estelle interrupted him with a little gesture of impatience, almost of despair.

"Ah, you are wrong, you are wrong," she said. "It is far more serious than that. It is no little quarrel. It is a pain that stabs to the heart--that kills. You will see Nina never again to make up a little quarrel. She has taken her grief away with her. I myself, when I first saw her troubled at the theatre, I also made a mistake--I thought she was hysteric--"

"At the theatre?" said he, with some sudden recalling of his own surmise.

"You did not regard her, perhaps, towards the end of her part, on Saturday night?" said Estelle. "I thought once she would fall on the stage. On the way home I think she was crying--I did not look. Then she is in this room--oh, so silent and miserable--as one in despair, until I persuade her to go to sleep until the morning, when she would tell me her sorrow. Then I was reading; I heard something; I went to the door there--it was Nina crying, oh, so bitterly; and when I ran to her, she was wild with her grief. 'My life is broken, Estelle, my life is broken!' she said--"

But here Estelle herself began to sob, and could not get on with her story at all; she rose from her chair and began to pace up and down.

"I cannot tell you--it was terrible--"

And terrible it was for him, too, to have this revelation made to him. Now he knew it was no little quarrel that had sent Nina away; it was something far more tragic than that; it was the sudden blighting of a life's hopes.

"Estelle," said he, quite forgetting, "you spoke of a letter she had left for you; will you show it to me?"

She took it from her pocket and handed it to him. There was no sign of haste or agitation in these pages; Nina's small and accurate handwriting was as neat and precise as ever; she even seemed to have been careful of her English, as she was leaving this her last message, in the dead watches of the night:

"DEAR ESTELLE" (Nina wrote),--"Forgive me for the trouble I cause you; but I know you will do what I ask, for the sake of our friendship of past days. I leave a letter for Mr. Lehmann, and one for Miss Constance, and a packet for Mr. Moore; will you please have them all sent as soon as possible? I hope Mr. Lehmann will forgive me for any embarrassment, but Miss Constance is quite perfect in the part, and if she gets the letter to-day it will be the longer notice. I enclose a ring for you, Estelle; if you wear it, you will sometimes think of Nina. For it is true what I said to you when you came into my room to-night--I go away in the morning. I have made a terrible mistake, an illusion, a folly, and, now that my eyes are opened, I will try to bear the consequences as I can; but I could not go on the stage as well; it would be too bad a punishment; I could not, Estelle. I must go, and forget--it is so easy to say forget! I go away without feeling injured towards any one; it was my own fault, no one was in fault but me. And if I have done wrong to any one, or appear ungrateful, I am sorry; I did not wish it. Again I ask you to say to Mr. Lehmann, who has been so kind to me in the theatre, that I hope he will forgive me the trouble I cause; but I _could not go on with my part just now.

"Shall I ever see you again, Estelle? It is sad, but I think not; it is not so easy to forget as to write it. Perhaps some day I send you a line--no, perhaps some day I send you a message; but you will not know where I am; and if you are my friend you will not seek to know. Adieu, Estelle! I hope you will always be happy, as you are good; but even in your happiest days you will sometimes give a thought to poor Nina."


He sat there looking at the letter, long after he had finished reading it; there was nothing of the petulance of a spoiled child in this simple, this heartbroken farewell. And Nina herself was in every phrase of it--in her anxiety not to be a trouble to any one--her gratitude for very small kindnesses--her wish to live in the gentle remembrance of her friends.

"But why did no one stop her?--why did no one remonstrate?" he asked, in a sort of stupefaction.

"Who could, then?" said Mlle. Girond, returning to her seat and clasping her hands in front of her. "As soon as the housemaid appears in the morning, Nina asks her to come into the room; the money is put into an envelope for Mrs. Grey; the not great luggage is taken quiet down the stair, so that no one is disturbed. Everything is arranged; you know Nina was always so--so business-like--"

"Yes, but the fool of a housemaid should have called Mrs. Grey!" he exclaimed.

"But why, Mr. Moore?" Estelle continued. "She only thought that Nina was so considerate--no one to be awakened--and then a cab is called, and Nina goes away--"

"And of course the housemaid didn't hear what direction was given to the cabman!"

"No; it is a misfortune," said Estelle, with a sigh. "It is a misfortune, but she is not so much in fault. She did not conjecture--she thought Nina was going to catch an early train--that she did not wish to disturb any one. All was in order; all natural, simple; no one can blame her. And so poor Nina disappears--"

"Yes, disappears into the world of London, or into the larger world, without friends, without money--had she any money, Miss Girond?"

"Oh, yes, yes!" Estelle exclaimed. "You did not know? Ah, she was so particular; always exact in her economies, and sometimes I laughed at her; but always she said perhaps some day she would have to play the part of the--the--benevolent fairy to some poor one, and she must save up--"

"Had she a bank account?"

Estelle nodded her head.

"Then she could not have got the money yesterday, if she wished to withdraw it; she must have been in London this morning!"

"Perhaps," said Estelle. "But then! Look at the letter. She says if I am her friend, I will not seek to know where she is."

"But that does not apply to me," he retorted--while his brain was filled with all kinds of wild guesses as to whither Nina had fled.

"You are not her friend?" Estelle said, quietly.

"If I could only see her for three minutes!" he said, in his despair, as he rose and went to the window. "Why should she go away from her friends if she is in trouble? Besides ourselves and the people in the theatre, she knows no one in this country. If she goes away back to her acquaintances in Italy, she will not say a word; she will have no sympathy, no distraction of any kind; and all the success she has gained here will be as good as lost. It is like Nina to say she blames no one; but her sending me back those bits of jewelry tells me who is to blame--"

Estelle hesitated.

"Can I say?" she said, in rather low tones, and her eyes were cast down. "Is it not breaking confidence? But Nina was speaking of you--she took me into the shop in Piccadilly to show me the beautiful gold cup--and when I said to her, 'It is another present soon--it is a wedding-ring soon he will give you--'"

"Then it is you who have been putting those fancies into her head!" he said, turning to her.

"I? Not I!" answered Estelle, with a quick indignation. "It is you! Ah, perhaps you did not think--perhaps you are accustomed to have every ones--to have every one--give homage to the great singer--you amuse the time--what do you care? I put such things into her head? No!--not at all! But you! You give her a wishing-cup--what is the wish? You come here often--you are very kind to her--oh, yes, very kind, and Nina is grateful for kindness--you sing with her--what do you call them?--songs of love. Ah, yes, the _chansons amoureuses are very beautiful--very charming--but sometimes they break hearts."

"I tell you I had no idea of anything of the kind," he said--for to be rated by the little boy-officer was a new experience. "But I am going to try to find Nina--whatever you may choose to do."

"I respect her wish," said Mlle. Girond, somewhat stiffly. However, the next moment she had changed her mood. "Mr. Moore, if you were to find her, what then?" she asked, rather timidly.

"I should bring her back to her friends," he answered, simply enough.

"And then?"

"I should want to see her as happy and contented as she used to be--the Nina we used to know. I should want to get her back to the theatre, where she was succeeding so well. She liked her work; she was interested in it; and you know she was becoming quite a favorite with the public. Come, Miss Girond," he said, "you needn't be angry with me; that won't do any good. I see now I have been very thoughtless and careless; I ought not to have given her that loving-cup; I ought not to have given her any of those trinkets, I suppose. But it never occurred to me at the time; I fancied she would be pleased at the moment, that was all."

"And you did not reflect, then," said Estelle, regarding him for a second, "what it was that may have brought Nina to England at the beginning?--no?--what made her wish to play at the New Theatre? Ah, a man is so blind!"

"Brought Nina to England?" he repeated, rather bewildered.

"But these are only my conjectures," she said, quickly. "No, I have no secrets to tell. I ask myself what brings Nina to England, to the New Theatre, to the companionship with her old friend--I ask myself that, and I see. But you--perhaps it is not your fault that you are blind; you have so many ladies seeking for favor you have no time to think of this one or that, or you are grown indifferent, it may be. Poor Nina! she that was always so proud, too; it is herself that has struck herself; a deep wound to her pride; that is why she goes away, and she will never come back. No, Mr. Moore, she will never come back. I asked you what you would do if you were to find her--it is useless. She will never come back; she is too proud."

Estelle looked at her watch.

"Soon I must go in to the theatre. There was a note from Mr. Lehmann this morning; he wishes me to go over some parts with Miss Constance, to make sure."

"What hour have you to be there?" he said, taking up his hat.

"Half-past eleven."

"I will walk in with you, if you like," he said; "there will be time. And I want to see that Lehmann isn't put to any inconvenience; for, you know, I introduced Nina to the New Theatre."

On their way into town Estelle was thoughtful and silent; while Lionel kept looking far ahead, as if he expected to descry Nina coming round some street-corner or in some passing cab. But at last his companion said to him,

"You had no quarrel, then, with Nina, on the Saturday night?"

"None. On the contrary, the last time she spoke to me was in the most kindly way," he said.

"Then why does she resolve to send you back those presents?" Estelle asked. "Why is it she knows all at once that her life is broken? You have no conjecture at all?"

"Well," said he, with a little hesitation, "it is a difficult thing to speak of. If Nina were looking forward as you think--if she mistook the intention of those trinkets I gave her--well, you know, there was a young lady and her mother, two friends of mine, who came to the theatre on Saturday night, and I dare say Nina passed while I was talking to the young lady in the wings--and--and Nina may have imagined something. I can only guess--it is possible--"

"Now I know," said Estelle, rather sadly. "Poor Nina! And still you think she would come back if you could find her? Her pride makes her fly from you; and you think you would persuade her? Never, never! She will not come back--she would drown herself first."

"Oh, don't talk like that!" he said, with frowning brows; and both relapsed into silence and their own thoughts.

Mr. Lehmann did not seem much put about by this defection on the part of one of his principal singers.

"It is a pity," he said to Lionel. "She had a fresh voice; she was improving in her stage-business; and the public liked her. What on earth made her go off like this?"

"She left no explanation with me," Lionel said, honestly enough. "But in her letter to Miss Girond she hopes you won't be put to any inconvenience. By the way, if Miss Ross owes you any forfeit, I'll settle that up with you."

"No, there's no forfeit in her agreement; it wasn't considered necessary," the manager made answer. "Of course I am assuming that it's all fair and square; that she hasn't gone off to take a better engagement--"

"You needn't be afraid of that," Lionel said, briefly; and, as Miss Constance here made her appearance, he withdrew from the empty stage, and presently had left the building.

He thought he would walk up to the Restaurant Gianuzzi in Rupert Street, and make inquiries there. But he was not very hopeful. For one thing, if Nina were desirous of concealment or of getting free away, she would not go to a place where, as he knew, she had lodged before; for another, he had disapproved of her living there all by herself, and Nina never forgot even his least expression of opinion. When he asked at the restaurant if a young lady had called there on the previous day to engage a room, he was answered that they had no young-lady visitor of any kind in the house; he was hardly disappointed.

But as he walked along and up Regent Street (here were the well-remembered shops that Nina and he used to glance into as they passed idly on, talking sometimes, sometimes silent, but very well content in each other's society) he began to ask himself whether in truth he ought to seek out Nina and try to intercept her flight, even if that were yet possible. Estelle's questions were significant. What would he do, supposing he could induce Nina to come back? At present, he vaguely wished to restore the old situation--to have Nina again among her friends, happy in her work at the theatre, ready to go out for a stroll with him if the morning were fine, he wanted his old comrade, who was always so wise and prudent and cheerful, whom he could always please by sending her down a new song, a new waltz, an Italian illustrated journal, or some similar little token of remembrance. But if Estelle's theory were the true one, _that Nina was gone forever, never to return; her place was vacant now, never to be refilled; and somewhere or other--perhaps hidden in London, perhaps on her way back to her native land--there was a woman, proud, silent, and tearless, her heart quivering from the blow that he had unintentionally dealt. How could he face _that Nina? What humble explanations and apologies could he offer? To ask her to come back would of itself be an insult. Her wrongs were her defence? she was sacred from intrusion, from expostulation and entreaty.

At the theatre that evening he let the public fare as it liked, so far as his part in the performance was concerned. He got through his duties mechanically. The stage lacked interest; the wings were empty; the long, glazed corridor conveyed a mute reproach. As for the new Clara, Miss Constance did fairly well; she had not much of a voice, but she was as bold as brass, and her "cheek" seemed to be approved by the audience. At one point Estelle came up to him.

"Is it not a change for no Nina to be in the theatre? But there is one that is glad--oh, very glad! Miss Burgoyne rejoices!"--and Estelle, as she passed on, made use of a phrase in French, which, perhaps fortunately, he did not understand.

After the performance, he went up to the Garden Club--he did not care to go home to his own rooms and sit thinking. And the first person he saw after he passed into the long coffee-room was Octavius Quirk, who was seated all by himself devouring a Gargantuan supper.

"This is luck," Lionel said to himself. "Maurice's Jabberwock will begin with his blatherskite nonsense--it will be something to pass the time."

But on the contrary, as it turned out, the short, fat man with the unwholesome complexion was not at this moment in the humor for frothy and windy invective about nothing; perhaps the abundant supper had mollified him; he was quite suave.

"Ah, Moore," said he, "haven't seen you since you came back from Scotland. It was awfully kind of Lady Adela to send me a haunch of venison."

"It would serve you for one meal, I suppose," Lionel thought; he did not say so.

"I dine with them to-morrow night," continued Mr. Quirk, complacently.

"Oh, indeed," said Lionel? Lady Adela seemed rather in a hurry, immediately on her return to town, to secure her tame critic.

"Very good dinners they give you up there at Campden Hill," Mr. Quirk resumed, as he took out a big cigar from his case. "Excellent--excellent--and the people very well chosen, too, if it weren't for that loathsome brute, Quincey Hooper. Why do they tolerate a fellow like that--the meanest lick-spittle and boot-blacker to any Englishman who has got a handle to his name, while all the time he is writing in his wretched Philadelphia rag every girding thing he can think of against England. Comparison, comparison, continually--and far more venomous than the foolish, feeble sort of stuff which is only Anglophobia and water; and yet Hooper hasn't the courage to speak out either--it's a morbid envy of England that is afraid to declare itself openly and can only deal in hints and innuendoes. What can Lady Adela see in a fellow like that? Of course he writes puffing paragraphs about her and sends them to her; but what good are they to her, coming from America? She wants to be recognized as a clever woman by her own set. She appeals to the _dii majorum gentium_; what does she care for the verdict of Washington or Philadelphia or New York?"

Well, Lionel had no opinion to express on this point; on a previous occasion he had wondered why these two augurs had not been content to agree, seeing that the wide Atlantic rolled between their respective spheres of operation.

"I have been favored," resumed Mr. Quirk, more blandly, "with a sight of some portions of Lady Adela's new novel."

"Already?"

"Oh, it isn't nearly finished yet; but she has had the earlier chapters set up in type, so that she could submit them to--to her particular friends, in fact. You haven't seen them?" asked Mr. Quirk, lifting his heavy and boiled-gooseberry eyes and looking at Lionel.

"Oh, no," was the answer. "My judgment is of no use to her; she is aware of that. I hope you were pleased with what you saw of it. Her last novel was not quite so successful as they had hoped, was it?"

"My dear fellow!" Mr. Quirk exclaimed, in astonishment (for he could not have the power of the log-rollers called in question). "Not successful? Most successful!--most successful! I don't know that it produced so much money--but what is that to people in their sphere?"

"Perhaps not much," said Lionel, timidly (for what did he know about such esoteric matters?). "I suppose the money they might get from a novel would be of little consideration--but it would show that the book had been read."

"And what, again, do they care for vulgar popularity?--the approbation of the common herd--of the bovine-headed multitude? No, no, it is the verdict of the polished world they seek--it is fame--_eclat_--it is recognition from their peers. It may be only _un succes d'estime_--all the more honorable! And I must say Lady Adela is a very clever woman; the pains she takes to get 'Kathleen's Sweethearts' mentioned even now are wonderful. Indeed, I propose to give her an additional hint or two to-morrow. Of course you know ---- is doomed?" asked Mr. Quirk, naming a famous statesman who was then very seriously ill.

"Really?"

"Oh, yes. Gout at the heart; hopeless complications; he can't possibly last another ten days. Very well," continued Mr. Quirk, with much satisfaction, as if Providence were working hand in hand with him, "I mean to advise Lady Adela to send him a copy of 'Kathleen's Sweethearts.' Now do you understand? No? Why, man, if there's any luck, when he dies and all the memoirs come out in the newspapers, it will be mentioned that the last book the deceased statesman tried to read was Lady Adela Cunyngham's well-known novel. Do you see? Good business? Then there's another thing she must absolutely do with her new book. These woman-suffrage people are splendid howlers and spouters; let her go in for woman-suffrage thick and thin--and she'll get quoted on a hundred dozen of platforms. That's the way to do it, you know! Bless you, the publishers' advertisements are no good at all nowadays!"

Lionel was not paying very much heed; perhaps that was why he rather indifferently asked Mr. Quirk whether he himself was in favor of extending the suffrage to women.

"I?" cried Mr. Quirk, with a boisterous horse-laugh. "What do I care about it? Let them suffer away as much as ever they like!"

"Yes, they're used to that, aren't they?" said Lionel.

"What I want to do is to put Lady Adela up to a dodge or two for getting her book talked about; that's the important and immediate point, and I think I can be of some service to her," said Mr. Quirk? and then he added, more pompously, "I think she is willing to place herself entirely in my hands."

Happily at this moment there came into the room two or three young gentlemen, intent upon supper and subsequent cards, who took possession of the farther end of the table; and Lionel was glad to get up and join the new-comers, for he felt he could not eat in the immediate neighborhood of this ill-favored person. He had his poached eggs and a pint of hock in the company of these new friends; and, after having for some time listened to their ingenuous talk--which was chiefly a laudation of Miss Nellie Farren--he lit a cigarette and set out for home.

So it was Octavius Quirk who was now established as Lady Adela's favorite? It was he who was shown the first sheets of the new novel; it was he who was asked to dinner immediately on the return of the family from Scotland; it was he who was to be Lady Adela's chief counsellor throughout the next appeal to the British public? And perhaps he advised Lady Sybil, also, about the best way to get her musical compositions talked of; and might not one expect to find, in some minor exhibition, a portrait of Octavius Quirk, Esq., by Lady Rosamund Bourne? It seemed a gruesome kind of thing to think of these three beautiful women paying court to that lank-haired, puffy, bilious-looking baboon. He wondered what Miss Georgie Lestrange thought of it; Miss Georgie had humorous eyes that could say a good deal. And Lord Rockminster--how did Lord Rockminster manage to tolerate this uncouth creature?--was his good-natured devotion to his three accomplished sisters equal even to that?

Lionel did not proceed to ask himself why he had grown suddenly jealous of a man whom he himself had introduced to Lady Adela Cunyngham. Yet the reason was not far to seek. Before his visit to Scotland, it would have mattered little to him if any one of his lady friends--or any half dozen of them, for the matter of that--had appeared inclined to put some other favorite in his place; for he had an abundant acquaintance in the fashionable world; and, indeed, had grown somewhat callous to their polite attentions. But Lady Adela and her two sisters were relations of Honnor Cunyngham; they were going down to Brighton this very week; he was anxious (though hardly knowing why) to stand well in their opinion and be of importance in their eyes. As he now walked home he thought he would go and call on Lady Adela the following afternoon; if she were going down to that house in Adelaide Crescent, there would be plenty of talk among the women-folk; his name might be mentioned.

Next morning there was no further word of Nina. When he had got his fencing over, he went along to Sloane Street, but hardly with any expectation of news. No, Estelle had nothing to tell him; Nina had gone away--and wished to remain undiscovered.

"Poor Nina!" said Estelle, with a sigh.

Somewhat early in the afternoon he went up to Campden Hill. Lady Adela was at home. He noticed that the man-servant who ushered him into the drawing-room was very slow and circumspect about it, as if he wished to give ample warning to those within; and, indeed, just as he had come into the hall, he had fancied he heard a faint shriek, which startled him not a little. When he now entered the room he found Miss Georgie Lestrange standing in the middle of the floor, while Lady Adela was seated at a small writing-table a little way off. They both greeted him in the most friendly fashion; and then Miss Georgie (a little embarrassed, as he imagined) went towards the French window and looked out into the wintry garden.

"You have come most opportunely, Mr. Moore," said Lady Adela, in her pleasant way. "I'm sure you'll be able to tell us: how high would a woman naturally throw her arms on coming suddenly on a dead body?"

He was somewhat staggered.

"I--I'm sure I don't know."

"You see, Georgie has been so awfully kind to me this morning," Lady Adela continued. "I have arrived at some very dramatic scenes in my new story, and she has been good enough to act as my model; I want to have everything as vivid as possible; and why shouldn't a writer have a model as well as a painter; I hope to have all the attitudes strictly correct--to describe even the tone of her shriek when she comes upon the dead body of her brother. Imagination first, then actuality of detail; Rose tells me that Mr. Mellord, after he has finished a portrait, won't put in a blade of grass or a roseleaf without having it before him. If there's to be a crust of bread on the table, he must have the crust of bread."

"Yes, but Mr. Moore," said Miss Georgie, coming suddenly back from the window--and she was blushing furiously, up to the roots of her pretty golden-red hair, and covertly laughing at the same time, "my difficulty is that I try to do my best as the woman who unexpectedly sees her dead brother before her; but I've got nothing to come and go on. I never saw a dead body in my life; and it would hardly do to try it with a real dead body--"

"Georgie, don't be horrid!" Lady Adela said, severely. "Here is Mr. Moore, who can tell you how high the hands should be held, and whether they should be clenched or open."

"Well, Lady Adela," he said, in his confusion (for he was in mortal terror lest she should ask him to get up and posture before her), "the fact is that on the stage there are so many ways of expressing fear or dismay that no two people would probably adopt the same gestures. Would you have her hands above her head? Wouldn't it be more natural for her to have them about the height of her shoulders--the elbows drawn tightly back--her palms uplifted as if to shut away the terrible sight?--"

"Yes, yes!" said Lady Adela, eagerly; and she quickly scribbled some notes on the paper before her. "The very thing!--the very thing!"

"But don't you think," he ventured to say, "that that would look rather mechanical--rather stagey, in fact? I know nothing about writing; but I should think you would want to deal mostly with the expression of the woman's face--"

"I want to have it all!" the anxious authoress exclaimed. "I want to have attitudes--gestures--everything; to make the picture vivid. I must have the actual tone of her shriek--"

"Which Mr. Moore heard as he came in," Miss Georgie said, as a kind of challenge.

"Yes, I thought I heard a slight cry," he admitted, gravely.

"Thank you so much, Mr. Moore," said Lady Adela, with her most charming smile, as she began to fold up her notes. "The little piece of realism you have suggested will come in admirably; and I think I've done enough for to-day--thanks to Georgie here, who has just been an angel of patience."

Tea followed, and some idle talk, during which Lionel learned that Lady Adela and her sisters were going down to Brighton the following day. He incidentally mentioned Octavius Quirk's name; whereupon his hostess, who was a sharp and a shrewd woman when she was not dabbling in literature, instantly and graciously explained to him that she had been corresponding a good deal with Octavius Quirk of late, over her new work. She informed him, further, that Octavius Quirk was coming to dine there that evening--what a pity it was that Mr. Moore was engaged every evening at the theatre! When Lionel left, she had persuaded him that he was just as much a favorite as ever; he could very well understand that she had cultivated Octavius Quirk's acquaintance only in his capacity as a kind of pseudo-literary person.

Day after day of this lonely week passed; Lionel, all unknown to himself, was marching onward to his fate. On the Saturday there were two performances of "The Squire's Daughter;" at night he felt very tired--which was unusual with him; that, or some other palpable excuse, was sufficient to take him down to Victoria station on the Sunday morning. He had forgotten, or put aside, all Maurice Mangan's cool-blooded presentation of his case; undefined longings were in his brain; the future was to be quite different from the past--and somehow Honnor Cunyngham was the central figure in these mirage-like visions. He had formed no definite plans; he had prepared no persuasive appeal; the only and immediate thing he knew was that he wished to be in the same place with her, breathing the same air with her, with the chance of catching a distant glimpse of her, even if he were himself to remain unseen. Would she be out walking along the sea-front after church? Surely so, when she had Lady Adela and her sisters as her guests. And if not, he would call in the afternoon; how well he remembered the rather dusky drawing-room and its curious scent of sweet-briar or some similar perfume. A hushed half-hour there would be something to be treasured up and conned over again and again in subsequent recollection. Would she be sitting near the window, half-shadowed by the curtains? Or standing in front of the fire, perhaps, absently gazing into it, her tall and elegant figure outlined by the crimson flames?

When he arrived at Brighton he walked rapidly away down to the King's Road, and there he moderated his pace, keeping his eyes alert. The people were beginning to come out from the various churches and many of them, before going in-doors, joined that slow promenade up and down the greensward farther west. But, look where he might, there was no sign of Lady Cunyngham and her daughter, nor of Lady Adela and her two sisters. They would have been easily distinguishable, he thought. That they were in Brighton, he had no doubt; but apparently they were nowhere in this throng; so, rather downhearted, he retraced his steps to the Orleans Club, where he passed an hour or two with such acquaintances as he met there.

He was more fortunate in the afternoon. When he went along to Adelaide Crescent, Lady Cunyngham and her daughter were both at home; and it was with a sense of joyous relief--and yet with a touch of disquietude too--that he found himself ascending the soft-carpeted stairs. When he was shown into the drawing-room, he found only one occupant there--it was Honnor Cunyngham herself, who was standing by a big portfolio set on a brass stand, and apparently engaged in arranging some large photographs. She turned and greeted him very pleasantly and without any surprise; she went to two low settles coming out at right angles from the fireplace and sat down, while he took a seat opposite her; if he was rather nervous and bewildered, at finding himself thus suddenly face to face with her and alone with her, she was quite calm and self-possessed.

"Mother has just gone up-stairs; she will be here presently," Miss Honnor said. "But what a pity my sisters did not know you were coming down. After church they all went off to visit an old lady, a great friend of theirs, who can't get out-of-doors nowadays; and so I suppose they stayed on so as to keep her company. However, I have no doubt they will be here before long. What a pleasant thing it must be for you," she added, "to be able to run down to Brighton for a day after a week's hard work at the theatre."

"Yes," he answered, in a half-bitter kind of fashion. "It is a pleasant thing to get away from the theatre--anywhere. I think I am becoming rather sick of the theatre and all its associations."

"Really, Mr. Moore," she said, with a smile, "it is surprising to hear you say so--you of all men."

"What comes of it? You play the fool before a lot of idle people, until--until--your nature is subdued to what it works in, I suppose. What service do you do to any human being?--of what use are you in the world?"

"Surely you confer a benefit on the public when you provide them with innocent amusement," she ventured to say--she had not considered this subject much, if at all.

"But what comes of it? They laugh for an hour or two and go home. It is all gone--like a breath of wind--"

"But isn't mere distraction a useful and wholesome thing?" she remonstrated again, "I know a great philosopher who is exceedingly fond of billiards, and very eager about the game too; but he doesn't expect to gain any moral enlightenment from three balls and a bit of stick. Distraction, amusement, is necessary to human beings; we can't always be thinking of the problems of life."

"They talk of the divine power of song!" he continued. "Well, what I want to do is this. I can sing a little; and I want to know that this gift I have from Nature hasn't been entirely thrown away--scattered to the winds and lost. Here in Brighton they are always getting up morning or afternoon concerts for charitable purposes; and I wish, Miss Honnor, when you happen to be interested in any of these, you would let me know; I should be delighted to run down and volunteer my services. I should be just delighted. It would be something saved. If I were struck down by an illness, and had to lie thinking, I could say to myself that I had done this little scrap of good--not much for a man to do, but I suppose all that could be expected from a singer."

She could not understand this strange disparagement of himself and his profession; and she may have been vaguely afraid of the drift of these confidences; at all events, when she had thanked him for his generous offer, she rose and went to the portfolio.

"There are some things here that I think will interest you, Mr. Moore," she said. "They only arrived last night, and I was just putting them away when you came in."

He went to the portfolio; she took out two or three large photographs and handed them to him; the first glance showed him what they were--pictures of the Aivron and the Geinig valleys, with the rocks and pools and overhanging woods he knew so well. He regarded them for an instant or two.

"Do you know what first made me long to get away from the theatre?" he said, in a low voice. "It was those places there. It was Strathaivron--and you."

"I, Mr. Moore?"

And now he had to go on; he had taken his fate in his hands; there was some kind of despairing recklessness in his brain; his breath came and went quickly and painfully as he spoke.

"Well, I must tell you now, whatever comes of it. I must tell you the truth--you may think it madness--I cannot help that. What I want to do is to give up the theatre altogether. I want to let all that go, with a past never to be regretted--never to be recalled. I want to make for myself a new future--if you will share it with me."

"Mr. Moore!"

Their eyes met; hers frightened, his eagerly and tremblingly expectant.

"There, now you know the truth. Will you say but one word? Honnor--may I hope?"

He sought to take her hand, but she shrank back a step--not in anger, but apparently quite stupefied.

"Oh, no, no, Mr. Moore," she said, piteously. "What have I done? How could I imagine you were thinking of any such thing? And--and on my account--that you should dream of making such a sacrifice--giving up your reputation and your position--"

Where was his acting now?--where the passionate appeal he would have made on the stage? He stood stock-still--his eyes bent earnestly on hers--and he spoke slowly:

"It is no sacrifice. It is nothing. I wish for another life--but with you--with you. Have you one word of hope to give me?"

He saw his answer already.

"I cannot--I cannot," she said, with downcast eyes, and obviously in such deep distress that his heart smote him.

"It is enough," said he. "I--I was a fool to deceive myself with such imaginings--that are far beyond me. You will forgive me, Miss Honnor; I did not wish to cause you any pain; why, what harm is done except that I have been too presumptuous and too frank--and you will forget that. Tell me you forgive me!"

He held out his hand; she took it for a moment; and for another moment he held hers in a firm grasp.

"If I could tell you," he said, in a low voice, "what I thought of you--what every one thinks of you--you might perhaps understand why I have dared to speak."

She withdrew her hand quickly; her mother was at the door. When Lady Cunyngham came into the room, her daughter was apparently turning over those photographs and engravings. Lionel went forward to the elder lady to pay his respects; there was a brief conversation, introduced by Miss Honnor, about Mr. Moore's generous proposal to sing at any charitable concert they might be interested in; and then, as soon as he could, Lionel said good-bye, left the house, and passed into the outer world--where the dusk of the December afternoon was coming down over the far wastes of sea.

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