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Full Online Book HomeLong StoriesPrince Fortunatus - Chapter 18. An Invocation
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Prince Fortunatus - Chapter 18. An Invocation Post by :bb520 Category :Long Stories Author :William Black Date :May 2012 Read :1440

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Prince Fortunatus - Chapter 18. An Invocation

CHAPTER XVIII. AN INVOCATION

All his vague, wild, impracticable hopes and schemes had suddenly received their death-blow; but there was nothing worse than that; he himself (as he imagined) had been dealt no desperate wound. For one thing, flattered and petted as this young man had been, he was neither unreasoning nor vain; that a woman should have refused to marry him did not seem to him a monstrous thing; she was surely within her right in saying no; while, on the other hand, he was neither going to die of chagrin nor yet to plan a melodramatic revenge. But the truth was that he had never been passionately in love with Honnor Cunyngham. Passionate love he did not much believe in; he associated it with lime-light and crowded audiences and the odor of gas. Indeed, it might almost be said that he had been in love not so much with Honnor Cunyngham as with the condition of life which she represented. He had grown restless and dissatisfied with his present state; he had been imagining for himself another sort of existence--but always with her as the central figure of those fancied realms; he had been dreaming dreams--of which she had invariably formed part. And now he had been awakened (somewhat abruptly, perhaps, but that may have been his own fault); and there was nothing for it but to summon his common-sense to his aid, and to assure himself that Honnor Cunyngham, at least, was not to blame.

And yet sometimes, in spite of himself, as he smoked a final cigarette at midnight in those rooms in Piccadilly, a trace of bitterness would come into his reveries.

"I have been taught my place, that's all," he would say to himself. "Maurice was right--I had forgotten my catechism. I wanted to play the gardener's son, or Mordaunt to Lady Mabel; and I can't write poetry, and I'm not in the House of Commons. I suppose my head was a little bewildered by the kindness and condescension of those excellent people. They are glad to welcome you into their rooms--you are a sort of curiosity--you sing for them--they're very civil for an hour or two--but you must remember to leave before the footmen proceed to shut the hall-door. Well, what's to be done? Am I to rush away to the wars, and come back a field-marshal? Am I to make myself so obnoxious in Parliament that the noble earl will give me his daughter in order to shut my mouth? Oh, no; they simplify matters nowadays; 'as you were' is the word of command; go back to the theatre; paint your face and put on your finery; play the fool along with the rest of the comic people, and we'll come and look at you from the stalls; and if you will marry, why, then, keep in your own sphere, and marry Kate Burgoyne!"

For now--when he was peevish and discontented and restless, or even sick at heart, he hardly knew why--there was no Nina to solace and soothe him with her gentle companionship, her wise counsel, her bright and cheerful and wayward good-humor. Apparently he had as many friends and acquaintances as before, and yet he was haunted by a curious sense of solitude. Of a morning he would go out for a stroll along the familiar thoroughfares--Bond Street, Conduit Street, Regent Street, where he knew all the shops at which Nina used to linger for a moment, to glance at a picture or a bonnet--and these seemed altogether different now. He could not have imagined he should have missed Nina so much. Instead of dining in his rooms at five o'clock and thereafter walking down to Sloane Street to have a cup of tea with Nina and Mlle. Girond before they all three set out for the theatre, he spent most of his afternoons at the Garden Club, where there was a good deal of the game of poker being played by young gentlemen in the up-stairs rooms. And sometimes he returned thither after the performance, seeking anew the distraction of card-playing and betting, until he became notorious as the fiercest plunger in the place. Nobody could "bluff" Lionel Moore; he would "call" his opponent if he himself had nothing better than a pair of twos; and many a solid handful of sovereigns he had to pay for that privilege of gazing.

Day after day went by, and still there was no word of Nina; at times he was visited by sudden sharp misgivings that terrified him. The heading of a paragraph in a newspaper would startle his eyes; and then he would breathe again when he found that this poor wretch who had grown weary of the world was unknown to him. Every evening, when Mlle. Girond came into the theatre, she was met by the same anxious, wondering question; and her reply was invariably the same.

"Don't you think it very strange?" he asked of Estelle. "Nina said she would write to you or send you a message--I suppose as soon as all her plans were made. I hope nothing has happened to her," he added, as a kind of timid expression of his own darker self-questionings.

"Something--something terrible?" said Estelle. "Ah, no. We should hear. No; Nina will make sure we cannot reach her--that she is not to be seen by you or me--then perhaps I have a message. Oh, she is very proud; she will make sure; the pain in her heart, she will hide it and hide it--until some time goes, and she can hold up her head, with a brave face. Poor Nina!--she will suffer--for she will not speak, no, not to any one."

"But look here, Miss Girond," he exclaimed, "if she has gone back to her friends in Italy, that's all right; but if she is in this country, without any occupation, her money will soon be exhausted--she can't have had so very much. What will become of her then? Don't you think I should put an advertisement in the papers--not in my name, but in yours--your initials--begging her at least to let you know where she is?"

Estelle shook her head.

"No, it is useless. Perhaps I understand Nina a little better than you, though you know her longer. She is gentle and affectionate and very grateful to her friends; but under that there is firmness--oh, yes. She has firmness of mind, although she is so loving; when she has decided to go away and remain, you will not draw her back, no, not at all! She will remain where she wishes to be; perhaps she decides never to see any of us again. Well, well, it is pitiable, but for us to interfere, that is useless."

"Oh, I am not so sure of that," he said. "As you say, I have known Nina longer than you have; if I could only learn where she is, I am quite sure that I could persuade her to come back."

"Very well--try!" said Estelle, throwing out both hands. "I say no--that she will not say where she is. And your London papers, how will they find her? Perhaps she is in a small English village--perhaps in Paris--perhaps in Naples--perhaps in Malta. For me, no. She said, 'If you are my friend, you will not seek to discover where I have gone.' I am her friend; I obey her wish. When she thinks it is right, she will send me a message. Until then, I wait."

But if Nina had gone away--depriving him of her pleasant companionship, her quick sympathy, her grave and almost matron-like remonstrances--there was another quite ready to take her place. Miss Burgoyne did not at all appear to regret the disappearance from the theatre of Antonia Rossi. She was kinder to this young man than ever; she showered her experienced blandishments upon him, even when she rallied him about his gloomy looks or listless demeanor. All the time he was not on the stage, and not engaged in dressing, he usually spent in her sitting-room; there were cigarettes and lemonade awaiting him; and when she herself could not appear, at all events she could carry on a sort of conversation with him from the inner sanctuary; and often she would come out and finish her make-up before the large mirror while she talked to him.

"They tell me you gamble," she said to him on one occasion, in her blunt way.

"Not much," he said.

"What good do you get out of it?" she asked again.

"Oh, well, it is a sort of distraction. It keeps people from thinking."

"And what have you to think about?" continued Grace Mainwaring, regarding herself in the glass. "What dreadful crimes have you to forget? You want to drown remorse, do you? I dare say you ought; but I don't believe it all the same. You men don't care what you do, and poor girls' hearts get broken. But gambling! Well, I imagine most men have one vice or another, but gambling has always seemed to me the stupidest thing one could take to. Drink kills you, but I suppose you get some fun out of it. What fun do you get out of gambling? Too serious, isn't it? And then the waste of money. The fact is, you want somebody to take care of you, Master Lionel; and a fine job she'll have of it, whoever undertakes it!"

"Why should it be a she," he asked, "assuming that I am incapable of managing my own affairs?"

"Because it is the way of the world," she answered, promptly. "And you, of all people, need somebody to look after you. Why should you have to take to gambling, at your time of life? You're not shamming _ennui_, are you, to imitate your swell acquaintances? _Ennui! I could cure their _ennui for them, if they'd only come to _me_!" she added, somewhat scornfully.

"A cure for _ennui_?" he said. "That would be valuable; what is it?"

"I'd tell them to light a wax match and put it up their nostril and hold it there till it went out," she answered, with some sharpness.

"It would make them jump, anyway, wouldn't it?" he said, listlessly.

"It would give them something to claim their very earnest attention for at least a fortnight," Miss Burgoyne observed, with decision; and then she had to ask him to open the door, for it was time for her to get up to the wings.

Christmas was now close at hand, and one evening when Harry Thornhill, attired in his laced coat and ruffles, silken stockings and buckled shoes, went as usual into Miss Burgoyne's room, he perceived that she had, somewhere or other, obtained a piece of mistletoe, which she had placed on the top of the piano. As soon as Grace Mainwaring knew he was there, she came forth from the dressing-room and went to the big mirror, kicking out her resplendent train of flounced white satin behind her, and proceeding to judge of the general effect of her powder and patches and heavily-pencilled eyebrows.

"Where are you going for Christmas?" she asked.

"Into the country," he answered.

"That's no good," said the brilliant-eyed white little bride, still contemplating herself in the glass, and giving a finishing touch here and there. "The country's too horrid at this time of year. We are going to Brighton, some friends and I, a rather biggish party; and a whole heap of rooms have been taken at a hotel. That will be fun, I promise you. A dance in the evening. You'd better come; I can get you an invitation."

"Thanks, I couldn't very well. I am going to play the good boy, and pass one night under the parental roof. It isn't often I get the chance."

"I wish you would tell me where to hang up that piece of mistletoe," she said, presently.

"I know where I should like to hang it up," he made answer, with a sort of lazy impertinence.

"Where?"

"Just over your head."

"Why?"

"You would see."

She made a little grimace.

"Oh, no, I shouldn't see anything of the kind," she retorted, confidently. "I should see nothing of the kind. You haven't acquired the right, young gentleman. On the stage Harry Thornhill may claim his privileges--or make believe; but off the stage he must keep his distance."

That significant phrase about his not having acquired the right was almost a challenge. And why should he not say, "Well, give me the right!" What did it matter? It was of little concern what happened to him. As he lay back in his chair and looked at her, he guessed what she would do. He imagined the pretty little performance. "Well, give me the right, then!" Miss Burgoyne turns round from the mirror. "Lionel, what do you mean?"

"You know what I mean: let us be engaged lovers off the stage as well as on." She hangs down her head. He goes to her and kisses her--without any mistletoe; she murmurs some doubt and hesitation, in her maiden shyness; he laughingly reassures her; it is all over, in half a dozen seconds. And then? Why, then he has secured for himself a sufficiently good-natured life-companion; it will be convenient in many ways, especially when they are engaged at the same theatre; he will marry in his own sphere, and everybody be satisfied. If he has to give up his bachelor ways and habits, she will probably look after a little establishment as well as another; where there is no frantic passion on either side, there will be no frantic jealousy; and, after all, what is better than peace and quiet and content?

Was he too indolent, then, to accept this future that seemed to be offered to him?

"Isn't it rather odd to go to a Brighton hotel for Christmas?" he said, at random.

"It's the swagger thing to do, don't you know?" said Miss Burgoyne, whose phraseology sometimes made him wince. "It's the latest fad among people who have no formal family ties. I can imagine it will be the jolliest thing possible. Instead of the big family gathering, where half the relations hate the sight of the other half, you have all nice people, picked friends and acquaintances; and you go away down to a place where you can have your choice of rooms, where you have every freedom and no responsibility, where you can have everything you want and no trouble in getting it. Instead of foggy London, the sea; and at night, instead of Sir Roger de Coverley with a lot of hobbledehoys, you have a charming little dance, on a good floor, with capital partners. Come, Master Lionel, change your mind; and you and I will go down together on Christmas morning in the Pullman. Most of the others are there already; it's only one or two poor professionals who will have to go down on Christmas-day."

But Lionel shook his head.

"Duty--duty," he murmured.

"Duty!" said she, contemptuously. "Duty is a thing you owe to other people, which no one ever thinks of paying to you." And therewith this profound moralist and epigrammatist tucked up her white satin train and waited for him to open the door, so that she might make her way to the stage, he humbly following.

On the Christmas morning the display of parcels, packets, and envelopes, large and small, spread out on the side-table in his sitting-room was simply portentous; for the fashionable world of London had had no intimation yet that their favorite singer was ill-disposed towards them, and had even at times formed sullen resolutions of withdrawing altogether from their brilliant rooms. As he quite indifferently turned the packages and letters over, trying to guess at the name of the sender by the address, he said to himself,

"They toss you those things out of their bounty as they fling a shilling to a crossing-sweeper because it is Christmas-day."

But here was one that he opened, recognizing the handwriting of his cousin Francie; and Francie had sent him a very pretty pair of blue velvet slippers, with his initials worked by herself in thread of gold. That was all right, for he had got for Miss Francie a little present that he was about to take down with him--a hand-bag in green lizard-skin that might be useful to her when she was going on her numerous errands. It was different with the next packet he opened (also recognizing the writing), for this was a paper-weight--an oblong slab of crystal set in silver, with a photograph of the sender showing through, and the inscription at the foot, "To Lionel Moore, from his sincere friend, K.B." And he had never thought of getting anything for Miss Burgoyne! Well, it was too late now; he would have to atone for his neglect of her when he returned to town. Meanwhile he recollected that just about now she would be getting down to Victoria station _en route to Brighton; and, indeed, had it not been for the duty he owed the old people, he would have been well content to be going with her. The last time he had been in a Pullman car on the way to Brighton it was with other friends--or acquaintances; he knew his place now, and was resigned. So he continued opening these parcels and envelopes carelessly and somewhat ungratefully, merely glancing at the various messages, until it was time to bethink him of setting forth.

But first of all, when the cab had been summoned and his portmanteau put on the top, he told the man to drive to a certain number in Sloane Street; he thought he would call for a minute on Mrs. Grey and Miss Girond and wish them a pleasant Christmas. Estelle, when she made her appearance, knew better what had brought him hither.

"Ah, it is so kind of you to send me the pretty work-case--thank you, thank you very much; and Mrs. Grey is so proud of the beautiful lamp--she will tell you in a moment when she comes in. And if there is something we might have liked better--pardon, it is no disfavor to the pretty presents, not at all--it is what you would like, too, I am sure--it is a message from Nina. Yes, I expected it a little--I was awake hour after hour this morning--when the postman came I ran down the stairs--no! no word of any kind."

He stood silent for a minute.

"I confess I had some kind of fancy she might wish to send you just a line or a card--any sort of reminder of her existence--on Christmas-day; for she knows the English custom," he said, rather absently. "And there is nothing--nothing of any kind, you say. Well, I have written to Pandiani."

"Ah, the _maestro_?--yes?"

"You see, I knew it was no use writing to her friends," he continued, "for, if she were with them, she would tell them not to answer. But it is different with Pandiani. If she has got any musical engagement in Naples, or if she has gone to Malta, he would know. It seems hard that at Christmas-time we should be unable to send a message to Nina."

"Perhaps she is sure that we think of her," Estelle said, rather sadly. "I did not know till she was gone that I loved her so much and would miss her so much; because sometimes--sometimes she reproved me--and we had little disagreements--but all the same she was so kind--and always it was for your opinion I was corrected--it was what you would think if I did this or that. Ah, well, Nina will take her own time before she allows us to know. Perhaps she is not very happy."

Nor had Mrs. Grey any more helpful counsel or conjecture to offer; so, rather downheartedly, he got into the hansom again and set out for Victoria station, where he was to meet Maurice Mangan.

Maurice he found in charge of a bewildering number of variously sized packages, which seemed to cause him some anxiety, for there was no sort of proper cohesion among them.

"Toys for Francie's children, I'll bet," said Lionel.

"Well, how otherwise could I show my gratitude?" Mangan said. "You know it's awfully good of your people, Linn, to ask a poor, solitary devil like me to join their Christmas family party. It's almost too much--"

"I should think they were precious glad to get you!" Lionel made answer, as he and his friend took their seats in one of the carriages.

"And I've got a little present for Miss Francie herself," continued Mangan, opening his bag, and taking therefrom a small packet. He carefully undid the tissue-paper wrappers, until he could show his companion what they contained; it was a copy of "Aurora Leigh," bound in white vellum, and on the cover were stamped two tiny violets,-green-stemmed and purple-blossomed.

"'Aurora Leigh,'" said Lionel--not daring, however, to take the dainty volume in his hands. "That will just suit Miss Savonarola. And what are the two violets, Maurice--what do they mean?"

"Oh, that was merely a little device of my own," Mangan said, evasively.

"You don't mean to say that these are your handiwork?" Lionel asked, looking a little closer.

"Ob, no. I merely drew them, and the binder had them stamped in color for me."

"And what did that cost?"

"I don't know yet."

"And don't care--so long as it's for Francie. And yet you are always lecturing me on my extravagance!"

"Oh, well, it's Christmas-time," Mangan said; "and I confess I like Christmas and all its ways. I do. I seem to feel the general excitement throughout the country tingling in me too; I like to see the children eagerly delighted, and the houses decorated with evergreens, and the old folk pleased and happy with the enthusiasm of the youngsters. If I've got to drink an extra glass of port, I'm there; if it's Sir Roger de Coverley, I'm there; I'll do anything to add to the general _Schwaermerei_. What the modern _litterateur thinks it fine to write about Christmas being all sham sentiment is simply insufferable bosh. Christmas isn't in the least bit played out--though the magazinist may be, or may pretend to be. I think it's a grand thing to have a season for sending good wishes, for recollection of absent friends, for letting the young folk kick up their heels. I say, Linn, I hope there's going to be some sunlight down there. I am longing to see a holly-tree in the open air--the green leaves and scarlet berries glittering in the sunlight. Oh, I can tell you an autumn session of Parliament is a sickening thing--when the interminable speeches and wranglings drag on and on until you think they're going to tumble over into Christmas-day itself. There's fog in your brain as well as in your throat, and you seem to forget there ever was an outer world; you get listless and resigned, and think you've lived all your life in darkness. Well, just a glimmer of sunshine, that's all I bargain for--just a faint glimmer--and a sight of the two holly-trees by the gate of the doctor's house."

What intoxication had got into the head of this man? Whither had fled his accustomed indifference and indolence, his sardonic self-criticism? He was like a school-boy off for the holidays. He kept looking out of the window--with persistent hope of the gray sky clearing. He was impatient of the delay at the various stations. And when at length they got out and found the doctor's trap awaiting them, and proceeded to get up the long and gradual incline that leads to Winstead village, he observed that the fat old pony, if he were lent for a fortnight to a butcher, would find it necessary to improve his pace.

When they reached the doctor's house and entered, they found that only the old lady was at home; the doctor had gone to visit a patient; Miss Francie was, as usual, away among her young convalescents.

"It has been a busy time for Francie," Mrs. Moore said. "She has been making so many different things for them. And I don't like to hear her sewing-machine going so late at night."

"Then why do you let her do it?" Lionel said, in his impetuous way. "Why don't you get in somebody to help her? Look here, I'll pay for that. You call in a seamstress to do all that sewing, and I'll give her a sovereign a week. Why should Francie have her eyes ruined?"

"Lionel is like the British government, Mrs. Moore," Mangan said, with a smile. "He thinks he can get over every difficulty by pulling out his purse. But perhaps Miss Francie might prefer carrying out her charitable work herself."

So Maurice Mangan was arrogating to himself, was he, the right of guessing Francie's preferences?

"Well, mother, tell me where I am likely to find her. I am going to pull her out of those fever-dens and refuges for cripples. Why, she ought to know that's all exploded now. Slumming, as a fad, had its day, but it's quite gone out now--"

"Do you think it is because it is fashionable, or was fashionable, that Miss Francie takes an interest in those poor children?" Maurice asked, gently.

Lionel was nearly telling him to mind his own business; why should he step in to defend Cousin Francie?

"She said she was going across the common to old Widow Jackson's," his mother answered him, "and you may find her either there or on the way to the village."

"Widow Jackson's?" he repeated, in doubt.

"Oh, I know it," Mangan said, cheerfully. And again Lionel was somewhat astonished. How had Maurice Mangan acquired this particular knowledge of Francie's surroundings? Perhaps his attendance at the House of Commons had not been so unintermittent as he had intimated?

There were still further surprises in store for Master Lionel. When at length they encountered Miss Francie--how pretty she looked as she came along the pathway through the gorse, in her simple costume of dark gray, with a brown velvet hat and brown tan gloves!--it was in vain that he tried to dissuade her from giving up the rest of the afternoon to her small _proteges_. In the most natural way in the world she turned to Maurice Mangan--and her eyes sought his in a curiously straightforward, confiding fashion that caused Lionel to wonder.

"On Christmas-day, of all the days of the year!" she said, as if appealing to Maurice. "Surely, surely, I must give up Christmas-day to them! Oh, do you know, Mr. Mangan, there never was a happier present than you thought of for the little blind boy who got his leg broken--you remember? He learned almost directly how to do the puzzle; and he gets the ring off so quickly that no one can see how it is done; and he laughs with delight when he finds that any neighbor coming in can only growl and grumble--and fail. I'm going there just now; won't you come? And mind you be very angry when you can't get the ring off; you may use any language you like about your clumsiness--poor little chap, he has heard plenty of that in his time."

Maurice needed no second invitation; this was what he had come for; he had found the sunlight to lighten up the Christmas-day withal; his face, that was almost beautiful in its fine intellectuality, showed that whenever she spoke to him. Lionel, of course, went with them.

And again it was Maurice Mangan whom Miss Francie addressed, as they walked along to the village.

"Do you know, in all this blessed place, I can't find a copy of Mrs. Hemans's poems; and I wanted you to read 'The Arab to his Horse'--is that the title?--at my school-treat to-morrow. They would all understand that. Well, we must get something else; for we're to make a show of being educational and instructive before the romping begins. I think the 'Highland Schottische' is the best of any for children who haven't learned dancing; they can all jump about somehow--and the music is inspiriting. The vicar's daughters are coming to hammer at the piano. Oh, Mr. Mangan," she continued, still appealing to him, "do you think you could tell them a thrilling folk-story?--wouldn't that be better?"

"Don't you want me to do something, Francie?" said Lionel, perhaps a little hurt.

"Do you mean--"

"The only thing I'm fit for--I'll sing them a song, if you like. 'My Pretty Jane'--no, that would hardly do--'The Death of Nelson' or 'Rule Britannia'--"

"Wouldn't there be rather a risk, Lionel? If you were to miss your train--and disappoint a great audience in London?" she said, gently.

"Oh, I'll take my chance of that? I'm used to it," he said, "I'll have Dick and the pony waiting outside. Oh, yes, I'll sing something for them."

"It will be very kind of you," she said.

And again, as they went to this or that cottage, to see that the small convalescent folk were afforded every possible means of holding high holiday (how fortunate they were as compared with thousands of similar unfortunates, shivering away the hopeless hours in dingy courts and alleys, gin clutching at every penny, that might have got food for their empty stomachs or rags for their poor shrunken limbs!), it was to Maurice Mangan that Francie chiefly talked, and, indeed, he seemed to know all about those patient little sufferers, and the time they had been down here, and when they might have to be sent back to London to make way for their successors. There was also a question as to which of their toys they might be permitted to carry off with them.

"Oh, I wouldn't deprive them of one," Mangan said, distinctly. "I've brought down a heap more this morning."

"Again--again?" she said, almost reproachfully; but the gentle gray eyes looked pleased, notwithstanding.

Well, that Christmas evening was spent in the doctor's house with much quiet enjoyment; for the old people were proud to have their only son with them for so long a time; and Francie seemed glad to have the various labors of the day over; and Maurice Mangan, with quite unwonted zest, kept the talk flowing free. Next morning was chiefly devoted to preparations for the big entertainment to be given in the school-room; and in due course Lionel redeemed his promise by singing no fewer than four songs--at the shyly proffered request of the vicar's pretty daughters; thereafter, leaving Maurice to conduct the gay proceedings to a close, he got out and jumped into the trap and was driven off to the station. He arrived at the New Theatre in plenty of time; the odor of consumed gas was almost a shock to him, well as he was used to it, after the clear air of Winstead.

And did he grudge or envy the obvious interest and confidence that appeared to have sprung up between his cousin and his friend? Not one bit. Maurice had always had a higher appreciation of Francie and her aims and ideals than he himself had, much as he liked her; and it was but natural she should turn to the quarter from which she could derive most sympathy and practical help. And if Maurice's long-proclaimed admiration for Miss Savonarola should lead to a still closer bond between those two--what then?

It was not jealousy that had hold of Lionel Moore's heart just at this time; it was rather a curious unrest that seemed to increase as day by day went by without bringing any word of Nina. Had she vouchsafed the smallest message, to say she was safe and well, to give him some notion of her whereabouts, it might have been different; but he knew not which way to turn, north, south, east, or west; at this season of kindly remembrance he could summon up no sort of picture of Nina and her surroundings. If only he had known, he kept repeating to himself. He had been so wrapped up in his idle dreams and visions that, all unwittingly, he had spurned and crushed this true heart beating close to his side. And as for making amends, what amends could now be made; He only wanted to know that Nina was alive--and could forgive.

As he sat by himself in the still watches of the night, plunged in silent reverie, strange fancies began to fill his brain. He recalled stories in which he had read of persons separated by great distances communicating with each other by some species of spiritual telegraphy; and a conviction took possession of him that now, if ever--now as the old year was about to go out and the new year come in--he could call to Nina across the unknown void that lay between them, and that she would hear and perchance respond. Surely, on New-Year's Eve, Nina would be thinking of her friends in London; and, if their earnest and anxious thoughts could but meet her half-way, might there not be some sudden understanding, some recognition, some glad assurance that all was well? This wild fancy so grew upon him that when the last day of the year arrived it had become a fixed belief; and yet it was with a haunting sense of dread--a dread of he knew not what--that he looked forward to the stroke of twelve.

He got through his performance that night as if he were in a dream, and hurried home; it was not far from midnight when he arrived. He only glanced at the outside of the letters awaiting him; there was no one from her; not in that way was Nina to communicate with him, if her hopes for the future, her forgiveness for what lay in the past, were to reach him at all. He drew a chair to the table and sat down, leaving the letters unheeded.

The slow minutes passed; his thoughts went wandering over the world, seeking for what they could not find. And how was he to call to Nina across the black gulf of the night, wheresoever she might be? Suddenly there leaped into his recollection an old German ballad he used to sing. It was that of the three comrades who were wont to drink together, until one died, and another died, and nevertheless the solitary survivor kept the accustomed tryst, and still, sitting there alone, he had the three glasses filled, and still he sang aloud, "_Aus voller Brust._" There came an evening; as he filled the cups, a tear fell into his own; yet bravely he called to his ghostly companions, "I drink to you, my brothers--but why are you so mute and still?" And behold! the glasses clinked together; and the wine was slowly drunk out of all the three, "_Fiducit! du wackerer Zecher!_"--it was the loyal comrade's last draught. And now Lionel, hardly knowing what he was doing--for there were such wild desires and longings in his brain--went to a small cabinet hard by and brought forth the loving-cup he had given to Nina. They two were the last who had drunk out of it. And if now, if once again, on this last night of all the nights of the year, he were to repeat his challenge, would she not know? He cared not in what form she might appear--Nina could not be other than gentle--silent she might be, but surely her eyes would shine with kindness and forgiveness. He was not aware of it, but his fingers were trembling as he took the cup in twain, and put the two tiny goblets on the table and filled them with wine. Nay, in a sort of half-dazed fashion he went and opened the door and left it wide--might there not be some shadowy footfall on the empty stair! He returned to the table and sat down; it was almost twelve; he was shivering a little--the night was cold.

All around him the silence appeared to grow more profound; there was only the ticking of a clock. As minute after minute passed, the suspense became almost unendurable; something seemed to be choking him; and yet his eyes would furtively and nervously wander from the small goblets before him to the open door, as if he expected some vision to present itself there, from whatsoever distant shore it might come.

The clock behind him struck a silver note, and instantly this vain fantasy vanished; what was the use of regarding the two wine-filled cups when he knew that Nina was far and far away? He sprang to his feet and went to the window, and gazed out into the black and formless chaos beyond.

"Nina!" he called, "Nina!--Nina!" as if he would pierce the hollow distance with this passionate cry.

Alas! how could Nina answer? At this moment, over all the length and breadth of England, innumerable belfries had suddenly awakened from their sleep, and ten thousand bells were clanging their iron tongues, welcoming in the new-found year. Down in the valleys, where white mists lay along the slumbering rivers; far up on lonely moorlands, under the clear stars; out on the sea-coasts, where the small red points of the windows were face-to-face with the slow-moaning, inarticulate main; everywhere, over all the land, arose this clamor of joy-bells; and how could Nina respond to his appeal? If she had heard, if she had tried to answer, her piteous cry was swallowed up and lost; heart could not speak to heart, whatever message they might wish to send, through this universal, far-pulsating jangle and tumult.

But perhaps she had not heard at all? Perhaps there was something more impassable between her and him than even the wide, dark seas and the night?

He turned away from the window. He went back to the chair; he threw his arms on the table before him--and hid his face.

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